The Surreal South
Senatobia resident Melissa Vincent crafts dreamlike landscapes using her own unique brand of iPhone-ography
Story by L. Taylor Smith
Arts | October 2014
Photographer Melissa Vincent has traveled to Botswana with National Geographic and had her work featured in galleries from San Francisco to New York City. However, the only tool this Mississippi native needed to achieve national photographic fame was her cell phone.
Vincent initially downloaded Instagram, the mobile social network and photo editing app, to keep in touch with her sister Ali Jardin, who lives in California. “We started posting pictures of our lives and our kids, then it became very competitive — but a fun competitive,” Vincent says. “We started going back and forth, trying to get more followers than each other, and, as we got more into it, it was like a game.”
Before long, she started downloading apps that would let her alter the way her photos looked by adding filters, blending photos and using stamps. “When I started doing it, I found this outlet that I always needed and wanted,” says Vincent.
Her passion for mobile photography has garnered her more than 390,000 followers on Instagram and caught the eye of many brands and companies. Vincent traveled to New York courtesy of Dos Equis beer to meet “the most interesting man in the world” for a marketing opportunity. This fall, she and her family are headed to Chattanooga to capture the beauty of the area for the city’s tourism department. “What I really enjoy is that I get to take my family on vacations and get to do things we wouldn’t normally be able to do,” she says. The benefit of using her iPhone as an all-in-one digital darkroom is that she can indulge in her creativity whenever the mood strikes her, and as a mother to two sons, a 16-year-old and 6-year-old, every opportunity to create is precious.
Her process is simple; she starts by swiping through her gallery to find a photo that strikes her as something that would serve as a good background. Then she goes from app to app, adding and altering until she feels the piece is done. “It may take me ten minutes or it may take me an hour. When I do art, it’s feverish, it’s a frenzy, and then it’s over and I’m done with it,” she says. Every photo, pattern and silhouette Vincent uses is something she’s captured on her own, whether on her travels or just around town. “I’m one of those people who’ll do anything for the shot,” Vincent says.
Her dedication sometimes lands in her hot water, whether it’s a dog barking at her as she tries to get a shot of a clothesline or property owners eager to catch trespassers. On one occasion, she was driving with her youngest son and came across a rock quarry in Hernando. “I had my little one in the back and he was napping. The gate was open, nobody was there, so I thought ‘I’ll just drive right in here, I won’t go far in,’” Vincent says. “A guy pulls up in a truck and asked if I had a federal permit to be there, and I said ‘Doesn’t this look like the Grand Canyon?’”
Although nearly every photo she posts has a whimsical style, “The Rooms of William Faulkner” collection especially embodies her unique ability to blend Southern culture with the abstract. One piece features a flock of birds against a cloudy sky that bleeds into his writing room. Another sets his bed adrift in a mirror-like lake, the silhouettes of white, spindly trees blend into the wallpaper and are reflected in shadow on the water beneath the bed.
Despite her sometimes obsessive need to produce content, she says she’s slowed down production a lot. Where she used to create three to four pieces a day, now she’s down to one or two a month. “I learned a good lesson when I did this; if you want to be really good at something, you have to love it — because if you love it, you’ll spend hours on it,” Vincent says. “I feel very fortunate. It was a lot of hard work and a lot of luck.”
Follow Vincent on Instagram at instagram.com/misvincent or visit herwebsite at melissavincent.com for more information on her ongoing adventures.