A film by Eric Minh Swenson. (Film number one-thousand one-hundred and sixty-seven in the series.)
The EMS Under The Dark Cloth Series are a continuing film exploration of candid conversations with photographers who have an impressive body of work in craft, dedication and vision. These artists are recognized by EMS as fulfilling a career in the medium and applying professional practice in the field. These personalities bring unique and historical ideas into the dialogue of creative arts and serve the communities through their ongoing passion to chronicle and document.
Melanie Pullen’s extensive series, High Fashion Crime Scenes (2003-2017), is based on vintage crime-scene images Pullen mined from the files of The Los Angeles Police Department and The LA County Coroner’s Office.
Drawn to the rich details and compelling stories preserved in the criminal records, Pullen began re-enacting these crime-scenes, with well-known actresses and models, outfitting the “victims” in current haute-couture, and photographing them in her elaborately staged settings.
Photographs from this series employ the power of fashion to disguise, distract, and to draw the viewer’s attention away from the otherwise gruesome subjects.
In High Fashion Crime Scenes, Pullen focuses on both social values and taboos while purposely taking aim at the media’s exploitation of sex, gender, and violence.
Pullen herself has noted that she targets society’s glamorization of violent acts and crimes by literally re-dressing what are deeply disturbing events, forcing the viewer to question their own values and observations.
EMS Legacy Films is a continuing series of short films produced by EMS on artists and exhibitions.
His art films can be seen at
Instagram : @ericminhswenson Website : emsartscene.com
Eric Minh Swenson also covers the international art scene and his writings and photo essays can be seen at Huffington Post Arts :
what was I supposed to say oh so I am from a little bit of New York and a little bit of Los Angeles as a kid I was primarily in New York and kind of back and forth my whole life which is cool because I've seen both places transition for my first camera or experience with a camera was I grew up with a bunch of crazy New Yorkers chain-smoking screaming New Yorkers and there was a Polaroid and I grabbed it I was 6 years old grab the Polaroid and I am said freeze and the whole room 20 New Yorkers screaming over each other froze for a picture and I realized in that moment I wanted to be a photographer that you had this power over anyone really you can get anyone to stop what they're doing pose or listen to you and that was like an amazing power as a six-year-old so that was the first moment my grandmother was the one of the first female photo editors in the world and she was the photo editor for Autobahn magazine which was like a big nature magazine still Autobahn it's really famous and she tried to convince me not to be a photographer and told me for a good part of my life that I was not a good photographer I would never make it and made the stakes much higher for me but I just ignored her and she has always been one of my great inspirations as a woman working in a primarily male-dominated industry which you know never really fazed any of us but we I looked up to her for that and her eye her ability to do things despite the odds it was kind of a major thing for me what was professional gaze oh boy my first okay so when I was around 18 or 19 I got a the Canon like the best Canon at the time and I got you know I started doing like some portrait stuff and I got like some jobs shooting wedding dresses and I was very into angles and light and playing with these like almost like a classic a classical style of photography and I was working in the darkroom I was working with this guy kind of doing his darkroom stuff so I was just teaching myself everything and then from that I moved into like a lot of music photography and did some pictures with the Rolling Stone and I did some of the very very first pictures of the Black Keys which was I I think I shot them the first picture ever used in Rolling Stone of the Black Keys which was like long before they were there playing little tiny gigs around town which is cool you know I got really fascinated by crime scene photography and realized like I grew up with all artists every my mother was a painter I you know anything else like I didn't know how to have a normal job I did not go to art school it didn't occur to me to go to art school because I was just always doing it I was kind of looking at art as or photography is an art form and that was what it really wasn't it was just starting to get a little recognition as an art but art collectors were not collecting photos you talked to somebody about like that collected art and you'd say well why don't you get a photo and they were just confused by you and painters would be really nasty and be like you're not an artist you're a photographer but there's like this this thing going on and I was really like in my mind I was as much a painter as a photographer so I I never saw it like that because I didn't know how to use a camera it was just a tool to get what was in my and onto paper can't my canvas so I decided to do a big art show and came across a space and you know I remember telling my father like you know I'm doing this art show it's gonna be amazing and all these giant art pieces and photos and later he told me after I did the show because I was just sitting there thinking what the fuck is she talking about what art so so I did this I got this amazing space in Silverlake it was a space that was owned by the woman who owned the paramour and she had a 4,000 square foot warehouse and I got you know I did all half the crime-scene photos and I blew them up really big and then we were hanging the work and I had this moment where I was like I only have a hundred people and my mailing list like who the hell am I gonna invite to my art show I'd spent all my money all my money was gone like I had no money and there was like this whole thing where somebody was like I know someone who knows someone who has the MOCA mailing list and if you show up with $20 in an alley we'll give you the MOCA mailing list and I was like driving over I still don't know what mailing list this was but I gave some lady in an alley who was angry $20 and it got this incredible mailing list and mailed out like 4,000 hard invites of the piece that's now in the Getty of the hanging woman to the MOCA a parent allegedly the mocha mailing list and knew I was expecting like drop-off and that that opening night there was like thousands of people showed up to the thing it was like a wine down and around the block of I think they all thought it was some mocha I did multiple solo shows with ace calorie so city block except I did the crime scenes in Korea I did it like the Korea of or the ACE type Kokosing of Korea I did a big solo show there and gangam I did I've shown it in Japan just all over the world I get the MOCA Florida is so a show there and recently the work was including icons of style at the Getty Museum which they also acquired the piece and own the own now high the high fashion crime scenes is in the Getty and I have a survey show coming up with the moa Museum and probably a bunch of I have a book coming out in Japan crime scene seriously the logistics oh okay so for high fashion crime scenes I the way I went about it was I I went to the Chief of Police I kind of stalked him a little bit at the time it was bråten who was the chief of police in Los Angeles and I told them about my series and I always had this like thing like if I want needed something this is secret one of my secrets I just talk forever and then people just kind of say okay okay whatever you mean get out of here so he ended up giving me like full access to the LA crime scene archive and I got the this amazing archive and really what I'm doing is I'm exploiting these images and these these horrible things that have happened so I'm recreating them in fashion and glamming them up as kind of a social commentary in a tongue-in-cheek way but it's also pretty messed up and so I did that for I worked with and I set up a series of rules like the one thing I I do instinctively and I don't know why but whenever I start a series I set up guidelines so instinctively with the crime scenes I for myself I said okay I'm not going to work with any picture post-1950 I'm primarily looking for crime scenes where the victim is you know John or Jane Doe like they're you they're on identified or the crime file was lost I'm yeah working with you know images that open up a story to me to me it's a end to a story so it should almost like open up this whole world so I had these these rules and the high dashing crime scenes became the feminine series and after I did war series which was the masculine they kind of play off each other so there was like four that and that and then I got to know that la I was doing an autopsy recreation so I got to know the LA County coroner at the time who is this guy David Campbell he was the chief of the coroner's office and he came to a lot of my shows it was really a nice person you know I was just working with these people and realizing like the how interesting this whole facet of life is in this the science behind it the forensics and the and now I'm actually on the advisory board of the school of forensics in Los Angeles which is like one of the biggest ones so I'm working with them a lot now to help with equipment and stuff so for high fashion crime scenes I for the locations I would look for areas that either replicated the exact crime scene or the exact location of the crime scene so oftentimes it would be I would recreate this place up to like sometimes I had a crew of a you know some of my shoots involved up to a hundred people to recreate these scenes but like you I hand-built rooms and recreated like all these little things and going to prop houses and built walls like it early on I was doing it all myself I would buy a fabric downtown and glue it onto a wall to create the wallpaper and you know and the fashion actually when I first started I had no money or recognition in the fashion industry so I I did have an American Express card so I would go to Barney's and buy up to like $10,000 and clothes a day because there's a no limit on your and if you get American Express eights like they gauged the like I don't know how they do it but it's just limitless money and I would go buy everything and then return it the next day and like they hated me and then eventually Barney's like start supporting me and I got featured in The New York Times the first T magazine which was cool and they I mentioned Barney's and then the next thing you know I was like oh come borrow stuff from us and and early on like the Rodarte day girls would bring clothes to my like once I started getting pressed they would bring clothes to my house and designers started sending me stuff so it got a lot easier but early on it was like I was falling I was like on the brink of going to jail oh yeah so high – in crime scenes yeah high fashion crime scenes was all guerilla style like I I there were moments where we snuck into the LA River and you know my crew I had all my stylist and the models and then help police helicopters came in and we were like literally running from the police to get away because we're there illegally so it was a you know I used to really love kind of that risk and then I started the next series you know I was showing I always have this like theory and maybe it's not totally ethical but I feel like you do whatever you need to do to get the art done not anything harming people of course but you do what you need to do and then once you start like making money and doing stuff you start to like get more legitimate so now I'm for you know 10 15 years I'd get it's a very legit well I being a big I'm very into Hasselblad I have a why I'm not like committed to any brand I used like for the last project I did and um I but Hasselblad has been the one that was kind of a game changer for me where I could really blow the work up to ten footprints which is kind of like what I'm known for are these giant photos I love my Hasselblad I went and for years I did only shock them and finally when the camera when they hit the 50 megapixel one it was like okay I can buy this camera and finally digital works for me so and the other camera I love that play with it's not really a what I use for my art as much but I love this Sony r7 whatever and it has this capability of shooting like an almost pitch black and you can make it like day it's really a beautiful camera the chip is I don't know what it is it's magic camera I love it yeah so yeah I'm totally self-taught I was rejected from art school and my family really didn't have the funds to send me to school so I it really didn't occur to me there was just a moment where I was like I'd like to go to Art Center and then I went in it was like I want to go to hurt senator they're like no so never went dart Center yeah so for me when it became I knew I loved photography but was about this visualization like every picture and even now I see exactly the image what I see it done in my head so it becomes my whole processes problem-solving I do all my own lighting everything is but it's problem-solving like how do I get this to look like what's in my head and it's maybe a maybe it's like a process of extraction I'm extracting what's in my little brain so that's how I learned I mean and at in the beginning I'm shooting with a cannon some of the first pictures I did nobody was blowing up 35 millimeter jayegi into these giant prints I was one of the first people to do that and but I knew I had to because it was in my head and all I had was a 35-millimeter camera I didn't know how ayuh so I didn't know anything so I had an auto like the first pictures I ever did were just Auto on my camera and early you know 19 whatever 98 and so to get the print super big from these little 35 millimeter neg negatives I started thinking like okay digital is coming in and how are these billboards so big so I found this guy that was involved in making billboards and I found this crazy software that would reap Ixil ate my pixels and then suddenly I could blow up these these pictures so they were massive it was like you know weird weird computing I'm pretty good with computer stuff so I would just do these weird increments of 10% and 10% and add these pixels in and then like work magic but you know by if I knew I was doing if I actually knew I probably would have been shooting with a large-format matte camera and nothing would look the way it looks like I have a very defined look because it's all been my invention my favorite photographers like I love and it's not what I do by have a dream of doing it when I'm very old I love war journalism so a lot of my favorite photographers are war journalists I always say there's like creating moments and capturing moments and it's definitely capturing moments is the art of war journalism but for the people that remain favorite are the great cinnamon hog refers I'm very inspired by movies and cinema miss cinephile you know the the great cinematographers have always been my inspiration and I'm bad with me is why I couldn't like and a lot of the old like French new-wave I love that like rawness we don't need all these fancy Hollywood lights or giant trucks we're gonna just film movie and make a movie I like that so that's a lot of my inspiration okay besides photography I do DJ but that's more of like I think an outlet for me it's so different from I kind of fell into it with friends my friend Chris Holmes who I'm just now on tour with Paul McCartney he opens for Paul McCartney is amazing once asked me to DJ with him at the Roosevelt Hotel million years ago it was so much fun and and for me when I'm editing photos I'm always listening to music so it really inspires me visually and as a photographer as opposed to a filmmaker you can listen to things if you're on a deadline or working all night you know your that gets me through the night so that became kind of like a way for me to just immerse myself into what another thing I love but another thing another reason why I do is I used to have a lot of parties at my house and I got sick of cleaning up everybody just got to hang out at the wherever I'm doing that it's easier but it's a it's a lot fun it's it's also like a thing where you're not like isolated you're around people so it's just it's a different feeling yes I love Los Angeles for years there was always this thing growing up where in New York I would come to visit my family in LA or vice-versa and in New Yorkers hated people from LA they would just say hey did they be like oh god you're going to lay it so horrible and I was it gets terrible it's like 80 degrees in the winter whoa so I always had a fondness for LA but the there was a little bit of the thing with like that it wasn't as sophisticated as New York and now it is now it's hit I think New York got kind of you know artists are constantly driven out of places in LA is just at that in that little area right now where artists can have spaces and here and there finally as a community they're real galleries here it's become a pretty important place I think internationally and culturally a lot of my New York friends are here now now everybody loves that by the way now that like they forgot about that like pudding la but I I don't know that I would ever I like to go back to New York to visit but I don't think I'd moved back there at this point it's just a different city it's kind of sad to go back there it's not like it was growing up the old days