INSPIRING LATINA | MELANIE RAMIRO
by Selicia Kennedy-Ross
This is part of our on-line series in which Hispanic Lifestyle is featuring Latinas that make difference in our community.
The dark photo backdrop in the small studio is empty, a blank canvas for the work Melanie Ramiro does. It is the place where she makes women feel beautiful and captures it on film.
Ramiro, 35, has been a photographer for the past four years. Photos of her subjects adorn the walls of her studio in Yucaipa, from toddlers dressed as angels to women of all ages in the boudoir photos who look like old-fashioned pin-ups from the 1940s. Also hanging on the walls are portraits of dancers and acrobats striking beautiful poses in pools of shimmering light.
But some of her most amazing work is not of the children or the glam photos of the girls, it is a simple shot of a woman draped completely in soft pink silk that forms her entire body into the pink ribbon that represents breast cancer awareness. The woman is Linda Jacobson, a breast cancer survivor who underwent a double mastectomy and who wanted to share hope with others during Breast Cancer Awareness Month last October. Having seen her work, Jacobson came to Ramiro with the idea of a portrait celebrating not just hope but the beauty and femininity survivors retain even after cancer.
Ramiro, whose own life was touched by cancer when her mother and grandmother both fought the disease and survived, was so moved by Jacobson’s dedication to the project she agreed to shoot it.
“She came to me with the concept of her actually becoming the pink ribbon,” Ramiro says. “She wanted people to know that there is still life –there is still romance – after cancer.”
Among the other shots in the “Pink Ribbon Collection” are moving shots of Linda with her family. In one portrait, she is sweetly embraced by her husband, their deep love reflected in the lens. In another poignant shot she is gently held by her grown son, a mirrored pose of an older photograph in the background, which shows Jacobson holding him as an infant. Both have tiny pink ribbons painted on their arms.
“The portrait with her son is a very emotional shot because you can see the photo in the background where she is supporting him as a baby, holding him close,” Ramiro says, her voice thoughtful. “And now years later, the roles are reversed and he is supporting her through her cancer.”
Ramiro held an exhibit of the Pink Ribbon photographs during Loma Linda’s University Medical Center’s “Speaking About Women’s Health” Conference in November 2009.
“We received a wonderful response to the photographs,” Ramiro says, adding that she and Jacobson aim to inspire hope in others, and possibly expand the Pink Ribbon project to include other survivors.
While Ramiro wishes she could shoot portraits full-time, she relies on her other job as a concert and events promoter to pay the bills and allows her to work with major musical recording artists like Timberland, Ke$ha and Rihanna. Working with these artists inspires her to dig deeper and bring that same art and passion to her photography, she said.
When shooting a portrait, Ramiro explains that she often draws from her background in dance and theatre. She spent some years as a circus performer as well and draws from her experience as an acrobat and aerialist when posing her subjects, taking notes from the beauty of dance while drawing attention to the lines and contours of the body, from arcs to pointed toes.
When she is not shooting or promoting a concert, Ramiro is studying as she is currently working on her Masters degree. A Latina of Mexican descent, she holds a Bachelors degree in International Relations from Stanford University and speaks Russian, Czech and some Spanish. Traveling is a passion of hers, she even spent a summer studying abroad in Prague and was accepted into Princeton University’s Minority Student Research Exchange Program.
Ramiro is so woman-affirming and friendly that she has worked with people of all ages, shapes and sizes and with each shot, draws them out.
“I want to evoke the pure essence of the person in front of my camera and show what makes them special,” Ramiro says. “Beauty is all about attitude – about embracing what is, not going against it.
“Every woman in every stage of life has the right to feel beautiful.”