A fascinating ‘supper’ with delicate food roamer Melanie Dunea

INTERVIEW / 19 JUL 2016 / BY DIMITRIS PANAGIOTIDIS

MELANIE DUNEA
Truffles in Italy © Melanie Dunea.
My Last Supper, The Next Course by Melanie Dunea / mylastsupper.com
Melanie Dunea. New York, USA / melaniedunea.com

Honest. Clean. Timeless! Melanie Dunea photographs, eats, drinks and listens to the fantasies of the world’s best chefs, celebrities and food lovers. Melanie is the author and photographer of five books. In her first book ‘My Last Supper’ Melanie Dunea transformed a pastime that has animated restaurants after hours for decades into a sumptuous photographic journey that provided a glimpse into the rarified world of top chefs. The book garnered national media and critical acclaim for the chic and beautiful package and the totally unique concept.

In ‘My Last Supper: The Next Course’, Dunea expands her circle from the highest echelons of chefs to include the best-loved food personalities such as Emeril Lagasse, Joël Robuchon, Tom Colicchio, and Bobby Flay to ask them the question that drove the first volume: “What would you eat for your last meal on earth?” A perfect gift for anyone who loves food, beautifully produced with gorgeous photography, ‘My Last Supper: The Next Course’ is so much more than a coffee table book — it’s a fascinating glimpse into the world of people who eat, breathe, and sleep food. As the number of people whoconsider themselves foodies has exploded, this book is sure to capture the audience who loved the first one and captivate those who are new to the scene.

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Mario Batali © Melanie Dunea, My Last Supper.

What motivates you?

Telling a good story and looking into the eyes of someone kind.

How did your art career start, and was it always photography centered?

I have always been fascinated by listening to and hearing a good story. At the age of five, I started shadowing my grandfather, a newspaper reporter, pretending to be a reporter too. He started training me immediately in a rather ruthless fashion. First I was given copies of great works of literature and told to copy them onto large yellow legal pads of paper. Then he instructed me to take a photography class so I would becapable of relaying a complete story with words and pictures.

“My dream scenario would be that after looking at one of my photographs, the viewer walks away with a deeper understanding of the person or place in the photograph.” says Melanie Dunea.

Which photographers influenced you, and how did they influence your thinking, photographing, and career path?

Ohhhh! There are so many! The first photographer I remember noticing was Karsh of Ottawa. His photographs struck and moved me because they were simple, direct and technically perfect. David Bailey’s photographs still always stop me in my tracks for their raw, yet elegant feeling. But wait! Henri Cartier Bresson and his perfect moments. Paolo Roversi, Peter Lindbergh, Steve Mc Curry the list goes on and on!

What do you want your viewers to take away from your work?

My dream scenario would be that after looking at one of my photographs, the viewer walks away with a deeper understanding of the person or place in the photograph.

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Marcus Samuelsson © Melanie Dunea.

What were the difficulties you encountered first starting photography?

Yes. The same difficulties I encounter now. My desire to be better and better.

When you are out shooting—how much of it is instinctual versus planned?

Hmmm good question. I do not like to conduct a lot of research on my subject. I prefer to enter a situation and just see. I try to feel and how I react to what is before me. I appear to be just chatting and relaxed but really I am watching my subject like a hawk. Sometimes shoots require a lot of planning and collaboration with the client, but I still try to make room for the moment in front of me.

“I don’t have clear cut goals or aspirations, I fear that if I make them I shut the door to chance and opportunity. Once exception, I try to improve everyday. Sounds hokey but it is true and not easy.”

What do you think makes a memorable street photograph?

To be invisible and record what is before you.

At some point of our younger lives, we imagined ourselves setting goals, for a better tomorrow. Have you fulfilled your dreams?

Yikes! Someone just asked me what my five-year plan is and I replied with a blank stare. I don’t have clear cut goals or aspirations, I fear that if I make them I shut the door to chance and opportunity. Once exception, I try to improve everyday. Sounds hokey but it is true and not easy.

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Parmigiano-Reggiano making in Parma © Melanie Dunea.

What is your idea of happiness?

It is so layered. Happiness can be a moment or a person or a taste or a feeling. I am super lucky that I have experienced so many moments that have made me feel pure joy but there is no formula. My life is full of highs and lows, and I embrace them both.

It is true, smells and flavours cover the biggest percentage of memory. Would you share with us, a unique, still vivid moment in life?

I had a wonderful moment recently that will forever be treasured in my mind but it involves touch and sound. I was working as an artist-in-residence in Bahia, Brazil. My brief was simple, yet difficult. Come, stay and leave a piece of art. I shot many, many pictures until I took two that I knew where right. After I found exactly which wall I wanted them to hang, it struck me, I wanted to make the frames myself. So for two days, I nailed and drilled my thumbs numb and made two large gorgeous white frames lined with copper. I couldn’t stop smiling the entire time. I realized that since the advent of digital photography, I have stopped printing and I miss feeling connected to the physical part of my photographs.

Suppose you were hosting this coming Saturday night. And you could invite anyone you wanted. Dead or alive.

Which four would you invite to come over and why?

Only four people? I have never had such a small dinner party in my life! 1. Christopher Hitchens for the words 2. Serge Gainsbourg for the music 3. Francis Bacon for the drawing he might doodle 4. Escoffier for the food.