Melanie Cleary's latest exhibition, New Year’s Day, opens at The Photographers Gallery za

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Pool portrait: Young girl with shower cap, Inkjet print, 45 x 35cm, Edition /9, 2012

You launched a series, Home Schooling, in Los Angeles earlier this year. Tell us about the series and how it was received over there.

I took photographs at a school for disabled children for a period of two years. It was an organic process: I started the series in colour, with photographs of older children. I decided on using black-and-white film for the smaller children, and it just worked very well. The photograph which caught everyone's attention in LA is entitled Piano Girl. It was just one of those classic moments when everything fell into place. The sitter was very comfortable with my taking photographs, she loved the camera and my camera loved her. I think the reason this series did so well is that I had spent so much time at this school, my sitters were very comfortable, they had became use to seeing me behind my camera. This gives one a great advantage, and it shows in this series.

How does staging a photo exhibition differ from, say, an art exhibition?

Not really sure. I have had only photographic shows. I guess both rely on the same principles of presenting a cohesive body of work which is relevant and concise.

View from above, water fountain, wide

Your latest exhibition, New Year’s Day, has opened at The Photographers Gallery za. What is this one about?

I went to Durban to photograph the annual gathering on Durban North Beach, which happened on 1 January 2012. I took photographs the day before and the day after too.

How did opening night go? Any interesting feedback from people who saw it?

A great success! I am happy with the feedback. It is all positive, which is good. People responded well to the work – they loved the show! I am happy too.

Pool portrait: Young girl in floral bathing suit

Could you give us an example of how you take your photos? Do you have a specific method?

I usually have a method, but for New Year’s Day I operated intuitively – there was so much happening and it was all happening all at once.

Congratulations on being a finalist for the PDN Photo Annual 2012. Are the results out yet?

Yes, but sadly I was not one of the winners. Next time!

Melanie Cleary

What will be your next project?

New Year’s Day will be travelling to the Dali Photo Festival in China in August. Heidi Erdmann and I will now start working on that show. It will be a larger installation than what is included in my current show. I am also finishing off my Home Schooling series.

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