Stormwater Studios in downtown Columbia is presenting award-winning filmmaker, documentarian and photographer Gerry Melendez's newest work from Feb. 21-March 5. The exhibit "Whole," is a collection of black and white portraits intended to highlight humanity's unseen similarities.
For Melendez, photos have a strong ability to move and encourage an audience.
“The still image can inspire you, can move you to tears, it can make you happy, it can do a lot of things,” Melendez said.
His most recent work, the images being shown at Stormwater Studios, come from his belief in the power of photography. According to Melendez, photography has the power to inspire viewers and stimulate passion.
“It goes back to creating art that makes you feel something,” Melendez said.
Inspired by the current division he sees in the world and his own personal struggles, Melendez said he set out to “do something positive” with his art. He uses black and white portraits of many different individuals to “strip us down to who we are” and to show the common threads that connect us as humans.
“There is kind of unique qualities to each and every one of us, but as a whole, we are more alike,” Melendez said.
After working on this project for over a year, Melendez said he found his own inspiration and learned many lessons through the process.
“I think every time you do something that has meaning, you definitely get involved emotionally in the work,” Melendez said.
Melendez used many different people as subjects for the exhibit, including a woman who recently underwent surgery for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a retired doctor and a former professional athlete. But the most personal and favorite subject for Melendez to photograph was his son.
“I’m so proud to have him in the show, because I’m proud of him, the young man that he is,” Melendez said.
In addition to seeing the photographs, Melendez said he is also excited for his audience to hear his subject's personal histories and experiences.
“You’re gonna have all these different people sharing their stories, this high school student is gonna share his story with a retired doctor who’s gonna share his story with somebody else, so it’s kind of a unique thing,” Melendez said.
Other Columbia artists at Stormwater Studios also voiced interest in Melendez's upcoming showing. Stormwater ceramic sculptor Pat Gilmartin is a part of the jury process that selects the shows for the studio, playing a hand in getting Melendez's exhibit to Stormwater.
“I’ve always been impressed by his photography," Gilmartin said. “The contrast, the composition, the artistic nuance of the photographs, I thought it was just very striking,”
Stephen Chesley, a painter at Stormwater Studios, said he also admires Melendez’s work. Chesley said he believes that Melendez is a special talent who is able to make his audience feel a personal connection with the art.
“What’s not easy to do, is to have the artistry as a photographer to produce emotional content,” Chesley said.
Chesley, and his fellow artists, are also excited about the impact this exhibit can have on students and are hopeful that exhibits like this will help students find their own artistry. Melendez also wants potential future artists and other young people to come to the show and enjoy the photographs.
“I think it’s important to get yourself out there and look at art and talk to artists and go to shows," Melendez said.
The exhibit will have an opening reception on Feb. 25. with catering by the Farm Crafted Events music by Palmetto Luna. Additionally, donations taken during the show will go to the Lexington Medical Center Foundation to help in its fight against cancer.