For many years, photographer Melonie Bennett turned the camera on her family.

The Gorham photographer built her reputation on deeply personal, often humorous and always revealing photographs of her father, sister, brother, husband, nieces and nephews.

But after a series of personal crises, including her divorce and major health issues involving her father and a nephew, Bennett had to take a break.

It was all just too close.

“I couldn’t be creative,” she said. “I went for a long period of time when I wasn’t creating much at all. But I finally got through it all and wanted to have some fun.”

And boy, did she ever.

The result is on display Thursday through March 30 at the new PhoPa Gallery, 132 Washington Ave., Portland (the former home of the Addison Woolley Gallery).

Because this is a family newspaper, we ought not name the show. But it’s two words: First name “bad”; the second, three letters, rhymes with “sass.”

To get her photographer’s eye back, Bennett started hanging out in the Standish bar Memory Lane. She lives near the joint, and was attracted to the friendly nature of the patrons.

Let’s just say that they like to party. The mechanical bull and stripper pole add to the unique quality of the place.

And then, to kick things into a higher gear, she signed up for the Kid Rock Cruise. (For those who don’t know, Kid Rock is a bad-boy rocker-rapper from Michigan. He also likes to party.)

For Bennett, it was a match made in heaven.

“I went by myself,” she said. “The whole thing was fun and bizarre.”

She met tons of people, including Kid Rock himself. She even got to throw back a few rounds with him and about 20 others in his suite.

Bennett took hundreds, if not thousands, of photographs. All are black and white, and most show the edgy side of the Kid Rock culture: lots of tattoos, lots of women in bikinis and lots of guys with drinks.

And skin. Lots of skin.

The show is equally divided between the Kid Rock photos and the Memory Lane photos. Both subjects are united by Bennett’s discerning eye.

“Whether I am taking pictures of my family, patrons at the bar or groupies on the Kid Rock Cruise, the common thread in it all is searching for that spark of life, creativity or humor that takes me by surprise,” she wrote in her artist statement.

Case in point: One image finds a woman dressed in a revealing top dancing with one arm raised. Someone off camera is a holding a drink between her breasts. On the pit under her raised arm, she has tattooed a heart buffeted by headphones. Directly behind her stands a guy in a Kid Rock T-shirt that reads “Made in Detroit.” He wears a wide smile and clutches a drink.

“There is just so much going on in that one photo,” Bennett said. “There is so much activity, so many places to look.”

Bennett is very much back on her feet, and is in a good place in her life. She and her husband, though divorced, are friends. The medical crises that sidetracked the family are being managed.

And she is planning to join another Kid Rock Cruise this spring. The show aptly captures her state of mind, she said.

“It fits my attitude right now,” she said with a hearty laugh.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes


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