Photographer Melissa Forde's Playful, Sensual World

A selection of meaningful pauses in a nonstop adventurous life.

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I fell in love with Melissa Forde's photographs before I knew she was taking them, via my obsession with her best friend Rihanna's Instagram account. We all know Rihanna's IG is a wonderful place to go if you want to feel like you're wasting your whole life wearing clothes in public. But there's something about many of her photos that feels especially intimate and playful, which is unusual for a massive celebrity account. They are not about pandering to some perceived male gaze but instead about embracing the fun of being young and in your body.

More From Lenny Letter No. 37
5 articles
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On Making the TV Writers' Rooms More Diverse
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It turns out the photos that really evoked this feeling for me — of female friendship and intimacy, of causing trouble on the run — were taken by Melissa, Rihanna's No. 1 stunner and full-time tour buddy. It's not an exaggeration to say that I stalked Melissa through multiple channels to ask that she share some of her work and the methodology behind it with Lenny readers. My favorite thing about her pictures is their cheerfulness, their sensuality (man, I don't use that word a lot), and the way she appreciates and captures both the natural world and the artifice of stardom. Her work has an authenticity and a spirit that every clothing website aimed at millennial women is trying to capture and just can't. RiRi makes for a pretty delightful muse, but Melissa is already on a rich creative journey all her own. 

--Lena Dunham

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Below, Melissa Forde takes us through her instinctive, immersive photography process. 

I didn't get my first camera until I was 20, a Sony Cyber-shot. I am a self-taught photographer and I see the world as if I were looking through my camera lens. Two years after I got that Cyber-shot, my best friend Robyn [a.k.a. Rihanna] gave me my first professional camera, a Canon EOS60D, because she believed I had a unique eye for taking pictures. She gave me that push to be better. 

I bought two books: The Digital Photography Book Part 1 by Scott Kelby, and Improve Your Photography by Jim Harmer. I learned a great deal from those books, not just about my camera but about the art of taking pictures. Right now I'm only shooting digital, but I'm looking forward to taking some classes to learn to shoot on film. Developing film is such an intriguing process, and I can't wait to be able to do so on my own.

The world is full of brilliant and talented photographers I admire. I've had the opportunity to shoot behind the scenes with some incredibly talented women like Camilla Akrans, Annie Leibovitz, and Ellen von Unwerth. They all have such strong and distinct styles, their photographs are always so beautiful, and I am motivated to try and capture that essence as well. 

I am always recording images of things that inspire me, whether with my camera or my phone. It's instinctual. When I'm planning a shoot, I make a mood board with a combination of the images I've taken plus other images that inspire me. It all depends on the environment or the image that I'll be working in. I always go through the images (after I've finished a shoot) and critique myself. It really helps me to push myself to get better shots. 

I studied art when I was younger: drawing, painting, and graphic design. That foundation has really helped me with my pictures. I want people to always feel as if they're a part of each image when they look at my photographs; I want them to get sucked into the very moment when the picture was taken. I want people to smell the salt water and feel the sun on their skin when they look at my photograph of the ocean, or if it's a picture of Rihanna performing, I want them to feel as if they're right there hearing her sing the note, feeling her energy. That's how I feel when I look at my images, and that's the one feeling I hope to leave with everyone. 

—As told to Laia Garcia

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