Sadness and Beauty - The musings of a Sydeny Portrait Photographer │ Melissa Katherine

Sadness and beauty.

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Sadness and beauty.

Much of life can be summed up by two words of concepts – Sadness and beauty. I often contemplate life in this simplistic, dualistic way. Us humans like to simplify and label things, although the more you think about the concepts of sadness and beauty existing in harmony, the more you realise it’s far from simple.

I love the idea of them being completely entwined. It’s as though they dance together and weave a tale, both reliant on the other to embody its own definition in the richest sense.

Without sadness is there any point to beauty? Does beauty not seem more divine in the presence of sadness? It is as though the two are the tangible real life versions of the light and dark polarities – concepts that are hardwired into our psyche.

Of course, sadness encompasses all that is tragic, grotesque and painful in our world and beauty is the light leaking through the cracks. It gives us a sense of hope that maybe the suffering is worth it, the pain bearable. Without beauty, would the sadness be unbearable?

Through centuries of dogma we have been convinced that darkness needs to be avoided, we must strive to find enlightenment, be good, stay happy, enjoy life’s happy moments. In doing so, we are not however completely connected to the magic of life. The richness, the grit, the dirty business, call it what you will, but this is essential to our existence. Sadness and beauty aren’t here to dance the Waltz, the Tango is their preference. Beauty and sadness exist is a constant state of raw flux. There is never too much of either because even in our darkest moments, there is an opportunity to seek beauty.

In my art, I strive to not only celebrate beauty, but also sadness. It may never appear is a literal sense, but by referencing past eras I focus on nostalgia and memory. Of times gone by, the fragility of the past and our memories, whether collective or personal – there is sadness in the ethereal and temporary. Sadness and impermanence go hand in hand, but within impermanence, there is undoubtedly much beauty. In fact, the impermanence makes the beauty even more so.

Sadness and Beauty | Melissa Katherine

A flower’s beauty is all the more celebrated or appreciated because of the impermanence. The temporary nature of this which we love causes sadness and this sadness in turn, when juxtaposed with the beauty of the beauty speaks to us on a deeper level.


So you call yourself a vegan photographer?

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Over four years ago I became vegan and shortly after I decided that my ethics had to flow entirely into my photography and business. I made a commitment to stop promoting products and practices that harm, abuse or violate the lives and liberties of animals, thus identifying as a vegan photographer/stylist and makeup artist and announcing that my business was a vegan and cruelty-free operation. It has sometimes meant that I have lost jobs because of it as well as limiting my scope for possible collaborations, but overall it has opened many doors, sparked thought-provoking conversations and created a way of doing business that sits well with my heart.


Although some vegan photographers may use the term in a different way i.e. documentary activism, I feel it is just as valid to claim the label and promote awareness around such things within my industry, specifically fashion and portrait photography. But is there really any difference between my work and that of a non-vegan photographer. Perhaps not so much from the outside looking in, but from where I sit, there are fundamental differences and I feel I need to start sharing these in the hope that I will bring more understanding to veganism and the way in which it affects all facets of one’s life as well as inspire others to pursue a life with more heart.


One of the best things that happened was it gave me the motivation to start doing makeup professionally. Initially, between I struggled to find other vegan creatives that inspired me and that I could work with. As an artist, I felt quite confident and comfortable learning new skills and adding them to my repertoire. So, I slowly but surely started building a vegan makeup kit and now thoroughly enjoy expressing my creativity in this way. As a lover of colour, makeup is a great way to bring this element into a shoot. I have also been told that I love to pay attention to the details and makeup fits into this way of thinking perfectly. Doing makeup and hair during photo shoots also makes the entire process and experience even richer. I love getting to know each and everyone I photograph and doing makeup and hair in the styling preparation stage of a shoot is the most amazing way to do so. It allows me to think about the concept and make any changes on the fly depending on the wishes of my clients as well as how we are both feeling that day. It becomes a truly live and flowing collaborative process. I’m so passionate about this!



Being a creative portrait photographer, who loves the whole process, means that styling the shoot is also affected by my vegan stance. I no longer use fur, feathers or leather in my sourcing or constructing of outfits, costumes and accessories.

Creative constraints actually fuel creativity! Faced with adversity, I definitely think outside the box a lot more. I have been forced to find new ways of making something or styling a shoot.

I also feel that my connection to nature and the seasons has been strengthened in the process. I have an affinity with flowers and they play a major role in my themes and inspiration.


So what happens when you book me and you aren’t vegan? I regularly work with both vegans and non-vegans and let me tell you straight off the bat, I will never start any kind of nasty debate with you about why you aren’t vegan or how vegan you are compared to me. I believe that you must come to these decisions entirely on your own.


The process will be exactly the same except for a few things. I will ask that you leave certain items at home. These items include feather boas, real fur, leather coats, leather bondage items and anything that is obviously made from an animal. Once you arrive I will offer you a drink, if it’s tea or coffee, just don’t expect me to have dairy milk. We will chat about the concept and what to expect and then get started on hair and makeup. Many of the most exciting makeup brands and products on the market today are in fact vegan and cruelty-free. As I said before I love colours, so quality pigmented foundations, eyeshadows and lip colours are essential to me and the looks I want to achieve, specifically high fashion, alternative, pinup and vintage glamour styles.


A few other things that would set me apart from other photographers might include knocking back work which included animal circuses, rodeos or zoos as locations. In the past would not have flinched at the thought of such a shoot, but as a vegan, I can’t promote such activities and would simply not want to include them in my art even as a backdrop. Some may say this is quite a hard line approach, but as artists, our job is to shape reality and inevitably create a better future, so whether we are photographing the atrocities of the world or leaving them out of our art our impact can be just as powerful – it just draws on different emotions. As a portrait photographer I aim to show beauty to the world, I create fantastical, cinematic realities that empower and inspire and I aim to do so without the harm and exploitation of our fellow earthlings.
I hope this shines a little light on what being a vegan photographer means to me. I also hope that it inspires you in some way to live a life that is more in line with your heart/truth each day. Don’t forget that small steps are still steps in the right direction.


Love and light,


Blog | Melissa Katherine

It’s not a mask! Thoughts on makeup and the ‘real’ you.

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Wearing makeup is not about trying to escape reality or avoid ‘the real you’, it’s about bringing the inner you out, so that when you look in the mirror you see your essence in all its glory. The inner goddess can have many facets and show up in many forms, makeup is a way to celebrate this. Each day a different face! Have fun with makeup, feel good wearing it and never let anyone tell you otherwise. Fantasy is a tool for empowerment!

It's not a mask! Thoughts on makeup and the 'real' you | Melissa Katherine

The more empowered people there are walking around in the world, the more positive our world will be. Do what you need to do to feel empowered. If you feel empowered without makeup – perfect! If you feel empowered wearing makeup – perfect! Neither is more valid than the other. Cutting down others because they choose or choose not to wear makeup is not only pointless, but it disempowers you, because essentially you are focusing your attention on other people rather than focusing on your brilliance and actions in this life.

It's not a mask! Thoughts on makeup and the 'real' you | Melissa Katherine

Societal norms around makeup are not only harmful, but they are rooted in the belief that women need to be in a constant state of conflicted ideals.

Beautiful, but not too beautiful.

Smart, but not too smart.

Smart and beautiful….Woah!.

Attractive, but not in our own way and on our own terms.

Well presented (wear makeup), but not too much, because then of course it is assumed that they are trashy, promiscuous and even dangerous.
Have you ever heard someone utter the words “A like a woman to wear no makeup and look natural!” Unbeknownst to them looking ‘natural’ takes hours of work, yet a skilled vintage gal can be out the door donning her winged liner and perfectly set coiffed hair in less time than a girl who prefers that sun-kissed cheeks and beach hair look.

Or what about this one:

“Are you sick, you look so tired?”
“No, I’m just not wearing makeup.”

Oh boy!

Want to wear heavy dramatic makeup everyday? Prefer to go bare faced all the time, during the day? Like to mix it up depending on how you feel? It’s all OK, but remember this you are beautiful no matter what and your self worth is so much deeper and extensive and important than whether you wear makeup or not.

It seems that we can’t win. It’s thankful a time to ignore those ingrained and ridiculous outdated beliefs. As women it is particularly important that we embrace each other and the various ways we choose to present ourselves.  United in diversity is how we move forward!

Little Black Book | Melissa Katherine

Little Black Book Project – a series on lingerie, empowerment and feminism

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I’m excited to present my latest photographic project.

LITTLE BLACK BOOK – a series on lingerie, empowerment and feminism.

In an endeavour to raise awareness and create a forum around the reasons why women wear lingerie and also to dispel the myths in relation to these themes, I’m seeking 20-30 women for a series on lingerie, empowerment and feminism. The end result will be presented as a limited edition hardcover book. Whether you are a vintage gal, love your pinup, burlesque or retro styles or prefer to wear something more modern and simplistic, I want to hear from you.

Little Black Book Project - a series on lingerie, empowerment and feminism | Melissa Katherine

Women wear lingerie for many reasons. I’ve got my personal reasons, but I want to hear from other women. It’s a chance for women to speak about lingerie, feminism and empowerment and voice their personal reasons why they choose to wear lingerie. This project will hopefully change perceptions and stereotypes and also empower other women.



10% of proceeds from the sale of the book will go to IWDA International Women’s Development Agency.

Looking forward to hearing from you,




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I’ve recently started delving into videography as well as photography and not just behind the scenes videos for social media. It’s a treat to express myself in a different way, yet still embrace the same aesthetics as my portraiture. Expect more experiments like this as I have fun with my creative portrait sessions. I can’t wait to explore this medium when shooting pinup, retro and vintage styles as well as fashion, avant garde and darker themed shoots. Viva la cinema!

Model: Storm
Makeup/Hair/Art Direction/Videography: Melissa Katherine Photography
Music “Búsqueda exploratoria #011 – Idée Fixe.mp3” by Circus Marcus
Full version can be viewed at