Gathering Stars is an autobiographical photography project about motherhood, healing, and wonder. Created over six years, the work explores themes of mortality, fertility, longing, and love. Melanie Gordon was diagnosed with breast cancer when her first child was just two years old. Her story unfolds through photographs, words and short films that portray Gordon and her two daughters as both observers and subjects. The resulting narrative harvests themes of healing and wonder as they live side by side during times of uncertainty and abundance.
Explore Melanie’s Gathering Stars story in words and images on her concept website.
Melanie Gordon is a visual artist, photographer, and filmmaker whose work explores female identity, the connections between mothers and daughters, and the nature of belonging. Gordon is motivated by the absence of women’s voices in art, culture, and systems of power. She seeks to capture moments of wonder and unexpected beauty where art meets everyday life.
In the gaps between landforms there is water. “I can hear the sea in your ear,” you say as you rest your ear on mine. Our bodies are oceans. Submersion does not hinder flight.
When I ask you, “What do we need to grow?” you say, “The colour of laughing.”
The Lyceum Students’ Interview
Co-location in a gallery has so many benefits for our students. Beyond fostering an appreciation for visual art in a venue where they see art being made around them all the time, our students learn to appreciate stories told through art. Melanie Gordon’s Gathering Stars is one of the most compelling stories we’ve shared this year and our students were deeply interested in what was happening behind the photographic captures.
Question from Felix:
I chose the image “Wading” because I just like how it shows the child moving forward and the shadow in front of her moving with her and I just thought that was cool. Why did you choose to have the colour of the photo match the sand?
This photo is of my daughter when she was five years old. We were exploring a creek near her great uncle’s one room cabin in a beautiful valley in British Columbia. It was dusk and there was a smoky golden light everywhere because of the setting sun and forest fires that were burning nearby. I didn’t change the colour of this photo. The golden colour of the water was simply the reflection of the smoky golden light above.
Question from Violet:
When I first looked at this picture I thought that it was upside down. The reflection of the girl is so perfect even though it will be disturbed by ripples in a split second. Her shoes really intrigue me. I keep wondering if you would end up with sand between your toes. This reminds me of when my family and I would go to a cottage before Covid and when we got there the first thing my brother and I wanted to do was always swim. I love the colour scheme of this photo: the beautiful reddish brown and beige with the reflection of the girl preserved so perfectly. Was there a split second window in which you had to catch this photo? The light is very beautiful. Was it near sunrise or sunset?
I made about 70 photos of this scene as the sun was setting. I’ve shared a few others with you below. I was very present with my daughter as she was wading through the water and playing with a boat that she made out of a milk carton for fairies. I didn’t know until I was editing the photos later that this was the image that I would choose out of the many I made. The photo I called “Wading” illustrated for me the feeling of “wading” into the unknown, the murky waters of the future.
Question from Lily:
In the midst of the pandemic, it feels as if life in general has gone up in flames. I think I can really relate to this photo right now because much like the picture, I feel as if my body is on fire. I think this image also resonates with the current state of the world. The path is fiery and dangerous and in front of us is dark and unknown. My question is “does the fire in this image have a special meaning to you?”
I made this photograph when we were travelling across America last summer, heading to Montana to support my husband’s parents. We camped along the way and this image is of trees that are illuminated by a campfire. I wanted to make a photograph that illustrated how I felt when I was diagnosed with breast cancer - fearful and out of control. The photograph is not of the fire itself but of the light that comes from the flames and how that light shapes the way we see things. While initially I felt scared after my diagnosis, I began a journey of meditation and mindfulness which empowered my own healing and well being. “A spark can be the beginning of destruction or the beginning of awakening.”
Question from Simon:
What I thought when I saw this picture is a feeling of hopelessness and uselessness as I watched the world burn. Sitting in a chair or standing, I could do nothing to put out the fire as it devoured everything that I cared about, never stopping to think about what it is was doing until it ended its one life to finish mine. Do you view this photo the same way as me?
I’m fascinated by the power of fire - to provide light, to provide warmth, to cook our food, to regenerate the earth. But, fire can also rage out of control and destroy things that we care about. I am continually deepening my respect for nature and its power and continually seeking to notice this power in myself.
She Walks With Flowers
She Walks With Flowers
Question from Lucian:
Melanie must have taken a lot of time and put it into this photo. The name is very interesting and wonderful for this photo. It kind of just speaks to me in some way because I also love flowers very much. What flowers are these and where did this photo take place?
The name of this photo came from daily walks that I take with my youngest daughter in our neighbourhood to watch the flowers bloom. I think these flowers are peonies. I don’t actually know very much about flowers except to enjoy their beauty. I see the blooming in my daughters reflected in the blooming of the flowers around us.
At the end of my cancer treatment I made three white dresses. A dress for the child I was, the child you are, and the child yet to come. A dress for the mother you make me and for my mother that made me. A dress for my healing body, to remember the shape of the hospital gowns that opened at the front where my softness was restored. The fabric of my becoming and yours.
When I finished my cancer treatment I made three white dresses. My intention was to create a participatory art project to celebrate my journey and foster community and healing. Each dress had a theme: 1. connection and community, 2. growth, 3. possibility.
I wore the dresses at the Burning Man Festival and invited people to paint me while sharing my story. I had been to Burning Man 10 times prior to having my first child. It was a big part of my life, a reminder that art and life can dissolve into each other and that self-expression can be met with beautiful resonance when we replace fear with love. To return to the festival after surviving breast cancer felt like a home-coming and neccessary step for healing.
The dresses are imprints of my body, my roles, my connections to past and future.
Moving visual mantras in four chapters: Fire, Cloth, Water, and Flowers. These films accompanied Melanie’s photographs, screened nightly on the windows of the Lyceum Gallery for the duration of the exhibition.
This moment is all there is. It cradles me like a mother. It meets me like a peer. It loves me like a child. I wear it like time.
Gathering Stars Book
Gathering Stars, the book, is a 50-page, 8" x 10" hardcover book by Melanie Gordon that features the full collection of photographs from her autobiographical Gathering Stars project, paired with writing, that together share her journey of mothering through breast cancer and beyond. Order your copy to be shipped to your home directly.