While dealing with life and death everyday, photography gives Kevin Mellis an escape to paradise.
When was the last time you did something for the first time? I had this initial thought after hearing Kevin’s Mellis’s story. When had I last grabbed life by the horns? To be honest, I cannot remember the last time I took a risk? Canadians are a lucky bunch who, if given the proper guidance, have every opportunity to excel. Kevin understood this sentiment from early on — having grown up in a loving family in Thunder Bay, Ontario. His career roots first started in the human services field where he knew he’d be able to mentor and guide troubled youth. First graduating from University of Victoria in 2001 with a degree in Child and Youth Care, he went on to pursue a Masters of Social Work (MSW) in 2004 and graduated in 2006.
Upon graduating, Kevin was employed as a Medical Social Worker on the Critical Care team of the Foothills Hospital based in the Emergency Department. Ten years later, Kevin is still there absorbing every moment as it comes. His main role in the ER is to work directly with families who have been notified to come in after learning about a life altering (and sometimes fatal) illness or accident of a family member. He is the first point of contact for these families, liaising between the medical team caring for their loved one, and his or her family members. While this work is emotionally taxing, Kevin excels at what he does. His passion for guiding and healing (even if that means simply grabbing a coffee for a grieving mother) allows him the great honour of touching people’s live in a positive way. When these situations arise at the ER, he is at the forefront of assisting. Over the ten years that he has worked in the ER, Kevin has been witness to thousands of deaths. Such deaths and sad experiences now deeply influence his work.
“I love being a medical social worker. It’s incredibly difficult and emotionally heavy work. However, I also have the rare privilege and honor to be present to many individuals and families who are experiencing the most challenging times of their life — often either life altering and even life ending events.”
It was in 2009 when things shifted for Kevin after he witnessed the particularly devastating death of a child in the Emergency Department. Seeing the gravity of sorrow placed upon the young family who had just lost their child, deeply affected Kevin. His inner voice spoke to change his life for the better. Although his work was rewarding, he knew that there was something missing. He wasn’t living his life to the fullest potential, and he, of all people, understood the fragility of life in a single moment. Shortly after this unplanned and unprepared moment of grief, Kevin made the choice to not live another moment with regrets and took a temporary leave of absence, moving to Vancouver to study photography.
I actively decided that I could no longer live within a realm of having possible regrets.
Vancouver was an entirely different avenue than what Kevin was used to working in. Unlike many natural born visual artists with blooming creative minds, he first picked up the digital camera in 2011. Prior to this, his knowledge of the art world was very much limited – only having worked with disposable cameras bought at convince stores. Kevin would study late into the night, using the tools he’d acquired in his new found studies, exploring the concepts and mastering the craft of visual arts.
“Every day and every night methodically, I learned the craft of image creation.”
Graduating from the Vancouver Institute of Media Arts in 2012 marked the beginning of Kevin’s artistic journey. Toward the end of that same year, he shifted from using the digital photography process to a large format analogue process with the intention of better connecting to his art.
“I had the artistic intention of connecting more deeply to the process of crafting my final images.”
By the end of 2015 (after having moved back to Calgary and being re-employed by Foothills Hospital), Kevin successfully completed a second Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Calgary. He shaped his entire final Masters thesis on “My Extended Family,” with a massive 24×24 analogue camera.
Since publishing his final thesis, he has been quietly working on his very first photo book project called “Delicate”, where he will be travelling to Vermont next month, working with both Elizabeth Avedon and Magdalena Sole, to work towards the books final publication. In addition to this book project, Kevin has also had work exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Denver, Philadelphia and most recently in Georgia and in Vermont.
The number one thing that makes Kevin stand out is that he is interested in creating images that embody a deep sense of aura and emotional sensibly.
“I’m interested in creating each image through a hands-on process, whether it’s loading the film, to hand developing or printing the final images, I feel that with a hands on approach I’m deeply connected to the image I am creating.”
His goal in life is to ultimately shift into a place where he can truly become a fully rounded visual artist and is certainly well on his way to achieving this goal. While he certainly enjoys his work in the ER, he states that he can’t see himself emotionally and physically doing this intense work for many years. It’s too hard on the body, mind and spirit, therefore his creative outlet in photography allows him a sense of peace on days that he’s not at the hospital.
“For now, I will continue to work the four night-shift rotation (4 nights on and 4 nights off) from 7 pm to 7 am. On my days off, I work on my images”
When asked the moment Kevin first knew he was creating meaningful art he answers that he first had a comprehension that his work was inspiring others when he shifted from using a digital camera to an analog process.
“I started creating images that had a very different asthetic and visual representation. Fortunately, the public noticed.”
The number one lesson that Kevin has taken from the years of working in the ER is that life is just way too fragile! He has personally been a witness to thousands of deaths while on the critical care team. Today, His number one motto is to embrace life now, for you do NOT want to live with regrets or live in a world of ‘should have’, ‘could have’, or ‘would have’.
“Everyone is just one call away from receiving life altering news. I know this personally because I’m the one who make these calls many times in a shift.”
If there is one thing I’ve learned from Kevin, it is that life is precious. I want to find new experiences every day. Tomorrow, I want to have a memory of the last time I did something for the first time. I need to take a risk, there is not a sooner day than today. Thank you Kevin for being one of those everyday Canadians living an extraordinary life. That, in itself, makes you a “StandOut” Canadian! — Toran Lanthier