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Melissa Golden November 28, 2013

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in United States.

Saudi Arabia Cultural Mission Graduation Ceremony, United States 2012

Melissa Golden (b.1984, USA) is a Washington, D.C. based editorial photographer. She enjoyed a nomadic childhood courtesy of the U.S. Military and her photography is directly influenced by her stints on both American coasts, the Deep South, and the Middle East. After graduating from the University of Georgia with degrees in International Relations and Journalism, she transitioned from newspapers to the wires to the magazine work she does today. Melissa’s photography has been recognized by American Photography 29, the White House News Photographer’s Association, and the Eddie Adams Workshop and has been shown at exhibitions in DC, LA, Stockholm and Cape Town. She is a contributing photographer with Redux Pictures and her clients include Parade, Fast Company, Bloomberg Businessweek, ESPN Magazine, Esquire and Marie Claire among others.

About the Photograph:

“The Wall Street Journal called me up to document a graduation ceremony at National Harbor outside Washington, D.C. for a story about Saudi nationals seeking higher education in the United States. The ceremony was sponsored by the Saudi government, as was the university bill for every single one of the students there. They were the all part of a program that subsidized the foreign education of the country’s best and brightest in an effort to groom them for leadership roles both in Saudi Arabia and globally. The enrollment of Saudi students at U.S. institutions has jumped dramatically since a precipitous falloff after 9-11 when tough restrictions were enacted.”

“As a child, I lived in Bahrain for two years and while I haven’t been back, shooting this ceremony was a bit of a nostalgic sensory overload experience for me. I gravitated toward the women in particular during the day for a few reasons. I found them visually distinctive, in that even though both male and female graduates wore the same cap and gown uniform that day, the women (with a single exception I noticed immediately) remained observant to various degrees with hijabs and veils. I also was surprised to see the sheer number of female graduates in attendance, a far larger contingent than I had expected. This photo was shot prior to the ceremony as the graduates began to stream in and take their seats, separated by gender, of course. The Saudi greens versus the pinks of lipsticks on bare faces, a scarf, and the one woman’s cell phone cover were particularly striking to me. There were still women sporting veils though and the image strikes me as a gentle collision of old world and new world values.”