Melanin is a term used to describe a dark brown to black pigment occurring in the hair, skin, and iris of the eye in people and animals. It is responsible for tanning of skin exposed to sunlight.
Melanin In Missouri is a collection of photographs and stories from Missourians who have experienced discrimination based on the color of their skin. Photographers and participants of this ongoing project collaborate and focus on capturing the natural beauty and essence of each individual while expressing the emotions that are caused by discrimination.
We sat down with Phoebe Landrum, local photographer based out of TechArtista and project coordinator, to discuss the importance of Melanin in Missouri during a brief Q&A session.
What propelled you to start this project?
I've been involved in conversations about race in St. Louis for a number of years, and, in many ways, I’m grateful the conversations have expanded to broader scale. It’s about time. I was considering many creative projects surrounding racial issues in the area, but when the NAACP sent out the travel warning deeming Missouri an unsafe state to travel to I knew had to do something right then. Screaming in the street alone was not going to do it. I used Facebook to grab the attention of my followers, stating in a post that it was "Blacks Only Day" in my studio and all sessions were free to those who are interested in sharing their stories of discrimination through a collaborative photography project. The goal was to share with friends, family, clients and acquaintances that discrimination is wrong and is never to be tolerated.
As a business owner, I felt it as my responsibility to taking a public stand against racial discrimination. In my inner circles I’m known for this stance, but it’s time to help others feel comfortable in taking the same kind of stance. This project started on a whim of passion, with the name ‘Melanin in Missouri’ coming from one of the participants, and will continue to evolve as the racial climate changes. I want this project to be a living breathing experience in which all participants own it, where they can take the project, or it’s context to where it needs to be and keep it alive. These stories, when seen and heard, speak to the bigger issues we all face with racism, which is that no one really wins. We need people to know that the NAACP warning is for a reason that can't be denied and work together to resolve it.
What’s a story of discrimination that stands out to you?
I remember during one of the first session in August I was talking to a beautiful teenaged girl who came with her family. She wasn't planning on participating, but after watching her family proceed to share their stories, she then decided too. She talked about growing up in Springfield MO, where there were very few dark skinned people. All of her friends were white. She's introverted by nature and her friends would always tell her, "You need to talk more...” or "Why don't you say anything?” She tells me this looking away with pain in her face, finding the strength to hold back tears. The young girl told me the reason she didn't talk much is because they were not really interested in what she had to say. She tried over and over again but they continually shut her down. I asked her how it make her feel, telling her it’s okay to cry and let it out. Her tears finally fell, "I feel frustrated, like they don’t ever want to hear me.” I then asked her why do you think they acted this way towards her and she responded, “because of the color of my skin.” I noticed she was upset, so I asked her what she was thinking about. She replied "this is my first time ever expressing my thoughts about this.” Discrimination can be a silent spirit killer, without anyone knowing exactly what's going on. Self awareness is the only way we can change our positions and unaware behaviors.
What are you hoping to achieve with Melanin in Missouri?
I want to create a platform for people to express their experiences of discrimination. Also, I'd like to make Melanin in Missouri a collective experience where different participants take ownership. Ultimately, I'd like other creatives and photographers to donate their skills to capturing more stories. Melanin in Missouri aims to demystify how much discrimination happens in this state and beyond.
I'm working on creating a cohesive website (donation services welcome) where these photos and stories will live, showing how many people are affected by discrimination and racism. I'd eventually like to do an exhibition where the images and stories are on display for people to view and reflect upon. One story can change a life.
Who can contribute?
We’re looking for donations of all types. Right now, we’re working on getting our digital properties together. We need a website designer and host who can create a simple but effective platform to share the photos and the stories side by side. Printers can come forward and donate prints to the participants. Food and beverage vendors could donate snacks for the long shooting days. We’re also looking for hair and makeup artists to donate their time for quick touches and inspirations.
Participants: At this time we are focused on people with melanin in their skin who live in Missouri or who have traveled here and have a story relating to discrimination based on skin color. Participants do not have to have their faces in the photo to be apart of this project as we’d like to get creative and explore what is best for each individual.
What can we do to help?
Spread the word! Support local businesses of people of color/ Melanin. Share our Facebook page, website and ultimately the message: discrimination it not tolerated. Personal connections and stories are the best way to make people aware of a project like this because we're not selling something, we are asking people to come forward and share.