The exquisite joy of finding comfort in your skin

The exquisite joy of finding comfort in your skin
New photo book The Book of Skin: Shangri-La explores the relationship between the body and the earth, the part and the whole, in a voluptuous embrace of the spirit made flesh.

In a society that profits off eternal dissatisfaction with our appearances to say nothing of our selves and our souls, coming to love one’s own body and find comfort in our own skin is an act of resistance. For those in the LGBTQ community, the pressures are even more extreme as their bodies become the site of systemic violence and criminalisation.

In these times, finding peace and joy in one’s self is a powerful act, one that allows people to attune themselves to nature itself. With this understanding, photographer Melody Melamed created The Book of Skin: Shangri-La (Kris Graves Projects), exploring the relationship between the body and the earth, the part and the whole, in a voluptuous embrace of the spirit made flesh.

Born in Los Angeles to a Persian Jewish family that immigrated to the United States at the start of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Melamed came of age in a culture and religion rooted in heteronormative ideas about gender and sexuality.

“Truth be told, I didn’t know who I was,” she says. “It took me a long time—a move across the country, and an MFA in the arts to finally figure myself out: to understand my identity and come to terms with the fact that I am a queer woman. It took me even longer to share this information with my family, and pave a place for myself.”

Melamed took up photography in high school, using the camera to express all that went unsaid. “With photography I could finally see my feelings and thoughts,” she says. “Intuition guided me towards making queer based work before I even knew I was queer! I came to my own liberation through photography.”

While making work about trans masculine identity In 2014, Melamed drew inspiration from their fearless determination to live their truths no matter the cost. “They were on a journey to finding themselves, being themselves against all odds and I wanted to be as strong as they were,” she says.

As Melamed would discover, the only way out is through. With healing, the raw pain and emotionality of dysphoria began to dissipate and in its place arose a feeling of euphoria born of love and acceptance that forms the heart and soul of The Book of Skin.

Melamed likens the portrait session to a “magical, ceremonial therapy” where she and the sitter move together as one, fully present in the moment and mirroring another to create a space for healing, rediscovery, and empowerment. “I wanted to create a Shangri-La where queer identities could exist and thrive harmoniously and equally,” she says.

“At the end of every session it feels like there has been a weight that has been lifted from both of us,” Melamed continues. “It can be a very emotional experience. I love it. I feel fortunate that I am able to draw people out in this way and every time, I am able to learn something more and discover something more about myself. The healing always goes both ways.”

The Book of Skin: Shangri-La is out now.

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