By Claudie Benjamin
Celebration is the way Melanie Wesslock describes life. Her professional life as a portrait and event photographer involves her in many profoundly special celebratory moments. Take, for example, her images of a surprise proposal on Bow Bridge in Central Park last fall. Then another photo shows the bride-to-be in a beautiful pink dress happily twirling with the future groom in a spontaneous dance near Bethesda Fountain. The photo shoot was pre-arranged with the future groom. Melanie was standing nearby with her camera unnoticeable among others shooting photos in the park that early morning.
Sometimes, the backdrop is looking out to the Hudson River in Riverside Park or a quick jaunt to Broadway and 72nd Street “the hub” of the UWS only minutes from her home/studio at 251 West 72nd Street. Her wish for the future is to be part of an UWS co-working studio with lots of affordable space for creatives.
Photographers have had to keep up with the times? Yes. In terms of technology and also the style of images that more than ever today calls for an Instagram-type capture of a moment and at the same time can acknowledge an important sense of tradition. Because Melanie is there in these most important moments, capturing the smiles and tears of pleasure that are part of momentous events, she feels connected with the client. This connection is so important that if she doesn’t feel a rapport with those she is asked to photograph, she turns the job down. Most often, however, she’s built lasting friendships with couples and families she’s photographed.
Melanie is good at coordination and is resourceful in averting problems. Like what? A good example was while photographing a wedding party in Gowanus, dark clouds appeared and the skies opened up. Melanie ushered the party to gather under the shelter of an overpass bridge. The resulting photos were hugely successful and appreciated.
The work has taken her to destination weddings in Maine, and outside the US to Cyprus, to Barbados. “I love my job,” she says. When possible, she brings her family, maintaining a balance between socializing and keeping a professional distance.
“Our family motto is that if you’re not doing something joyfully, then you shouldn’t be doing it,” Melanie says. She, her husband, Michael, 15-year-old son, Maxwell, have approached the pandemic as they have other challenges—with a sense that new situations provide opportunities to learn and experience new things.
Melanie wanted to be a photographer from the age of 13. She says she’s from a family of modest means. “If we wanted something, we had to work for it.” She worked full-time for years as a receptionist by day to put her through the School of Visual Arts as a full-time night student. Skilled and determined to succeed, she had thought she would become a news photographer, but she found that her true vocation was as in event photography. She also does portraits that seem to bring out the hushed bliss of a sleeping infant, winsome smiles and laughter of children and most appealing, natural expressions of adults of any age.
Since most events that call for a photographer are celebratory, the profession matches her positive approach to life. She and her husband were living and working in the city when she became pregnant. It was a very difficult pregnancy says Melanie, explaining that physicians were uncertain that the baby would be healthy and were concerned that Melanie might become paralyzed. “I was actually partially paralyzed during my pregnancy but regained feeling before my baby was born.” They bought a property, a small farm in the country as a place to recover. Happily, both mother and son were fine. What then were they going to do with the property they asked themselves. Farming it would take some immersion in the basics of raising pigs and chickens and growing vegetables. But, they were up for the challenge! Most recently, Melanie completed a course in butchering a SUNY Cobleskill. “There’s zero waste.” During the worst of the pandemic, they welcomed the chance to spend more time in together in the country. During the winter months with no need to farm, they went skiing. While by preference and necessity required going into the city to work and traveling back upstate, Melanie likes the variety of locales.
Her husband Michael works for a brokerage firm and has been able to conduct business remotely. While upstate, Melanie encouraged him to pursue a dream of creating a wood-fired mobile pizza business, so they purchased an old horse trailer. Melanie, with the benefit of completing a welding class, retrofit the vehicle for use as a mobile pizza “box”. The pizza-making is all up to Michael and Maxwell. They are doing well, and are booked for many events. Pizza anyone?
Wedding couples and families organizing anniversaries and other celebrations are currently booking Melanie’s services for upcoming events. After the lull in celebrations for many months of Covid, isolation and precaution the resurgence of social activity, “feels good,” says Melanie. “I feel hopeful for 2022.”
Visit Melanie Wesslock Photography.