“It is important that these images are seen to be made by a human. The pictures are flawed and have the heavy hand of my vulnerability hammered into them. They are as raw and honest as I can be.”
James Mellon is an ‘outsider artist’ who does not fit the art-world mould – nor does he wish to. His images are not so much works of art as relics of a marginal community – works of love. It is a gritty, stoical kind of love, but all the more powerful for that.
Likened by the photography critic of the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, Robert McFarlane, to the New York street photographer Weegee (Arthur Fellig, 1899–1968), James Mellon documents the tattooing and piercing communities of suburban Perth, Western Australia. It is a community of which he is a member and the images are distilled in the intimate embrace of complicity.
The prints are stained and dog-eared. He writes in the margins in crayon. Most are small. These are not the calculated objects of refined elegance or lavish spectacle. They are much more than that. They have the aura of a cherished talisman, worn from much handling, kept close, warmed by the body. They speak of relationships and they record the passage of lives: tattoos that mark the milestones of birth, coming of age, love, despair or death.
Alasdair Foster was the first to show the work of James Mellon outside Western Australia; in 2002 and then later in 2004 in Suburban Edge, an exhibition which went on to tour extensively throughout Australia. More recently he presented James Mellon’s work in China as part of the major 20-person exhibition Imagining the Everyday (2010).
The works below are selected from a body of photographs made in and around suburban Perth between 1999 and 2008.