FLINT, Michigan —
An air of mystery surrounds Mylisha (pronounced Melissa), creatively known as My Proulx. She’s ever-present, hiding within the crowds of people at festivals, gatherings, and events, capturing the essence of that “Flint pace” and “Flint sound” undergirding the city.
Through her personal and commercial endeavors, Proulx evokes that “Flint vibe” through her uniquely named business, “Plain Air Photography,” a play on the term ‘plein air painting’ that describes the act of painting outside or in nature.
While humble, the married mother of two is assertive and unabashed in saying what needs to be said. Whether as a “city and country girl” or “popping around all the different locales and meeting people,” her dedication to the craft has helped her find an effective and efficient way to communicate with people through photography.
Proulx's talents recently helped her become the recipient of Buckham Gallery’s first Emerging Artist Fellowship
— a collaboration between the Buckham Fine Arts Project and the University of Michigan-Flint Arts + Culture Research Cluster.
Today, she finds herself at the Flint Institute of Arts as its first photography instructor. Flintside spoke with the multi-talented Flint native to talk photography, her new role as an instructor, and why representation matters.
My Proulx pictured teaching kids the art and skill of photography.
Flintside: What inspired you to make photography your creative weapon of choice?
“My dad practiced photography in school and has few but beautiful prints that are moody and emotive. He gave me my first digital camera. I took it to Japan when I was in high school and realized how very, very bad the whole thing was — not just the camera (it was lame), but my approach. I was too scared to ask people to get together for a photo, to wait so I could get a good landscape shot, or to take pictures of me. I didn't want to look like I was trying too hard. A camera is the most effective and efficient way to communicate to people who may or may not even think they care about what your experience is. A few more college classes and an obsession with images that stick, and here we are today.”
Flintside: You’ve been all over Flint capturing the city. What sticks out to you?
“There’s a Flint pace, a Flint sound, a whole Flint vibe to catch. But, honestly, what sticks out to me is how super creative people are. There is an abundance of people who want to see themselves and others thrive. I love to see the various ways people come together to make that happen. There’s gonna be some drama, setbacks, miscommunications, and management issues, but in the end, it’s all progress. We’re all just trying to be in a better place while we’re here.”
Flintside: You were Buckham Gallery's 2021-22 inaugural Emerging Artist. How was that experience?
“We started in January, and it has been a learning experience for all of us! The facility I was awarded access to is newly acquired by the university, and it hadn’t been used in a ridiculously long time. Because it was so neglected, we spent a lot of time making repairs, painting, getting the electricity to work, making it habitable, and having consistent access. I can say it isn’t 100% exactly what we planned, but what is? It’s been a huge blessing and a whole lot of steps in a great direction. I’ve met some amazing people through meetings and events, and I can honestly say it has been invaluable. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
Flintside: The Flint Institute of Arts recently announced you as its first photography instructor. How do you feel spearheading this endeavor, and what can students expect?
“I am the truest form of nerd and a compulsive hard worker and could not (and still can’t) believe that an opportunity like this just fell into my lap. I couldn’t believe that when I read it! How is it that nobody has taught these at this historic institution? And why me? I felt a bit of impostor syndrome, but then I thought, “why not me?” I am on full mission mode to make these the best photography courses in Flint. Something I would’ve signed up for as a kid and something I’d take time out of my busy days to do as a grown-up. These first courses are exploratory but look for these next sessions to branch out into other areas that will keep people coming back. I have so many ideas, and the possibilities are just way up there. I’m crazy excited!”
Flintside: We're in an era where the phrase "representation matters" is so prominent. What do you feel you represent?
My Proulx with camera in hand.
“What I represent is unapologetically black and female, but with a series of gradient caveats and an unspoken understanding that the world desires much more from me than that.”
There are lots of things about me that people can’t pin down. I am ok with that. I realized it’s not always easy for others to come to terms with being different. The most consistent situation I have encountered in an academic setting is having students referred to me because they feel different — bored, misunderstood, anxious, bullied — and need a way to change their outlook.”
Flintside: Having worked in education myself, you tend to attract those students who don’t fit into the standard. Has that impacted who you think you represent?
“I’ve found that I represent people who, more than anything else, want an opportunity to express themselves openly and honestly in a way that people will understand and respect. [So] I have made a habit of collecting strategies to make life more palatable. As an instructor, my goal is to bring out the best versions of my students using strategies that work for them. If nothing else, I bring a sense of pride and power to the table that I fully intend to share.”
Flintside: When you look at how far a camera or two has taken you, what are some of the takeaways you get about your life and journey?
“I’ve realized that photography has been a ticket to more opportunities than I could’ve possibly imagined for myself. We can plan everything out, and the universe throws a series of curveballs that don’t even use the same type of ball we agreed on using in the first place. I have learned so very much since this journey began! My clearest takeaway is this: The thing that is hardest for you to conquer might be the path you should take. If you struggle with something, taking it on as a personal challenge to succeed at it might be just the thing you need to get yourself on track.”
Find My Proulx and Plain Air Photography on Facebook, Instagram, and their website. If you're in the area, Proulx's 'Rapture/Rhapsody' exhibition is open at Riverbanks Art Gallery at 400 N. Saginaw Street in Flint, from Sept. 9 to Oct. 7, 2022.
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