Last year I was introduced to Nicholas Mele Photography via Bettie Bearden Pardee when she featured his work on her blog, Private Newport, and I was thrilled to meet Nick in person last month when I attended the Newport Flower Show. Nick has spent every summer of his life in Newport, Rhode Island, and the fabled resort remains one of his favorite subjects. (Click here to tour his family home, which was once owned by Edith Wharton.) The grandson of Oatsie Charles, legendary Washington, D.C. hostess and Newport society fixture, Nick has the innate ability to capture with his camera the glittering world in which he grew up.
One cannot help but think of the way famed society photographer Slim Aarons described his pursuit of “photographing attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places” when viewing Nick’s work. He is frequently published in Town & Country, Vanity Fair, The New York Times, and New York Social Diary… and today, I am delighted to welcome Nick to The Glam Pad for a Q&A.
Q: What inspired you to become a photographer?
A: I don’t know if there was any grand inspiration. I always had a proclivity for art growing up, which in turn was nurtured by my parents’ encouragement to follow my passions in life. When I got to college, I really fell in love with photography. However, I never genuinely pictured it as a career. After college, I went to photo school at the International Center of Photography in NYC because I wasn’t ready to get a “real job”. I spent the next ten years fighting my calling. I started an independent film company, I went back to school and got my MBA, I did marketing for a clothing company and I even bartended for a while. It wasn’t until about four years ago that I decided to put all my efforts into photography full time. In retrospect, I should’ve just stuck with my first instincts.
Q: In addition to Newport, Rhode Island, where do you spend your time for work and play?
A: My wife and I (and dog and cat and child/monster) spend the majority of the year in Palm Beach, FL. We used to live in Los Angeles, but that was too far away from all of our friends and family on the East Coast. We actually don’t travel that much, but our most frequent trips are to NYC and Washington DC (where we both grew up).
Q: What do you love most about living in Newport?
A: That’s a tough one! What’s not to love? I’ve spent every summer of my life coming to Newport and I can’t think of a better place to be for those three or four months of the year. The weather’s beautiful, the energy is high, and there is a sense of history and tradition that you don’t find in a place like the Hamptons. The same families that have been here for generations come back every summer and pick right back up where they left off. For people who spend most of their time in major metropolitan cities like New York and Boston, it’s nice to have a place that emulates that feeling of community that you really only find living in small towns.
Q: I enjoy following you on Instagram via @a.social.life and @nickmelephotography, and as an interior design blogger, I particularly love getting an inside glimpse into all of the fabulous homes you feature. Can you tell me more about them?
A: I was lucky enough to grow up with a grandmother and mother who really appreciated a well decorated home. Designers like Mario Buatta and Anthony Brown were frequent guests at dinner. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that not everyone has good taste. There are lots of fabulous houses that are horribly decorated. So when I see a really great home I get excited. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really awesome interior designers like Ruthie Sommers, Meg Braff and Patrick Killian. But what I’m really drawn to are these older homes filled with what are obviously family heirlooms and vintage furniture. Luckily, like I said before, Newport is a small community and I have access to a lot of cool houses just from growing up here.
Q: Please tell me about the history of Land’s End and The Whim, your Grandmother’s home. Who did the interior design?
A: Land’s End was Edith Wharton’s home (author of The Age of Innocence….never read it….) in the 1890’s. I believe it was originally built in the 1860’s. My grandmother bought it in 1952 but sold it again in 1957 (pardon me if those dates are off…I wasn’t alive then). She renovated and moved into the home’s eight car garage which is now known as the Whim. My parents bought back Land’s End in 1989 when I was seven and now the two houses are almost one property with connected gardens. As far as the interior design, Land’s End was mostly done by my mother Victoria (who is an artist, but not a designer) and is mostly just a mish mash of furniture and art from our previous homes in Washington D.C. I’m sure she had some advice from the aforementioned Anthony Brown and Mario Buatta. The Whim, according to my mother, was most likely decorated by a long since passed Newport designer named of Tom Hagerman. More recently, John Peixinho did a re-design on my grandmother’s favorite sitting room (pictured below).
Q: How did your celebrated grandmother (Oatsie Charles) shape who you are today? What are the greatest lessons you learned from her?
A: My grandmother was a huge influence on me. She is one of the last remaining grand dames of a bygone era; that world of entertaining and manners doesn’t exist anymore. Truth to tell, she scared the hell out of me as a child. As I got older, however, I came to appreciate what an amazing woman she was and why she is so celebrated. She has a wit and charm that immediately draws people to her. I learned early on that you can get away with a lot if you’re funny and charismatic. I also came to appreciate eccentricity and quirkiness, in both my friends and myself. To me, there is nothing worse than being boring. Oscar Wilde has a great quote, “It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.”
Q: Where do you find inspiration?
A: I would say my biggest inspiration comes from photographers like Slim Aarons and Tina Barney, but also the visual style of filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino. However, I think it’s so important that you develop your own style. You need to be uniquely you. There is definitely a sense of whimsy that I hope comes out in my photographs, especially my portraits. I am also a child of the 80’s and 90’s, so if I didn’t admit to being influenced by the movies and style of those eras then I’d be skipping a big part of what make me me.
Q: History and traditions are very important to you. In what ways to you continue to embrace them in your daily life?
A: That’s an interesting question. I don’t know if there is anything I can tangibly point to (kids, never end a sentence with a preposition). I think a certain amount of reverence for what came before is healthy and allows us to build our own traditions. So much of the previous generations’ sensibilities and customs are dying out (some, obviously for the better), but I think it would be a shame to forget them all. Manners, in particular, are not given the importance they once were. Even though my wife says I have terrible manners, I still want to teach my son to stand when a woman enters the room and use good eye contact when talking to an adult.
Q: What has been your favorite photography project to date?
A: I don’t know if I have one. As an overarching theme (and to no ones surprise), I’ve loved photographing Newport over the years: the people, the houses, the events. At some point in the future I’ll put all the pictures together into a coffee table book. Most recently, I really enjoyed photographing Newport kitchens for the New York Times Magazine. If you go back and find the article (maybe two years ago?), you’ll see that there is a great contrast between some of these grand houses and their kitchens that haven’t been updated in years and are mainly utilitarian. Some of the my favorite photos are actually the outtakes that didn’t make into that story.
Q: When you are not behind the camera, how do you enjoy spending your free time?
A: Oh, I’m such a geek! Besides photography, my three great passions are movies, comic books and mixed martial arts. But really, what I most enjoy is spending time with my wife, my two-year-old son and my dog, Bodhi (adopt, don’t shop people!). Family is very important to me and I even love hanging out with my parents and my in-laws. Also, when you live in places like Palm Beach and Newport, how can you not go to the beach as much as humanly possible?
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: Another Oscar Wilde quote! “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.” 😉
To read more about Nick and see more of his work, please visit the following articles:
- My Newport – New York Social Diary
- Newport Today – New York Social Diary
- Newport Society: Moments in Time – Private Newport
- A Question of Taste – The New York Times
- Oatsie Charles Recalls the Wasp Heyday – Vanity Fair
- Lands End/The Whim – Washington Life Magazine
- The Whim, The Newport Cottage Where Oatsie Charles Spends Her Summers – The Gilded Age Era
- Lands End – The Downeast Dilettante
- Mele photography show offers insider’s view of Newport, botanicals – Palm Beach Daily News
- See Inside Edith Wharton’s Summer Home in Newport – Town & Country
All photography for this post are by Nick Mele or were taken from from his Instagram accounts (which are must follows) @a.social.life and @nickmelephotography. Please visit Nicholas Mele Photography for additional information. Thank you, Nick, for providing us with this delightful glimpse into your world!