Published 7:55 pm Tuesday, January 6, 2009

It took Melakikki Edwards a while to figure out what she wanted to do with her life.

Shonte, as those closest to her knew her, found her calling after enrolling in a photography class at the University of Alabama.

According to her sister, picking up a camera felt as natural to Shonte as breathing.

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“She struggled with finding her niche. She majored in psychology at Alabama because I majored in it,” said Takesha Shannon, a therapist in Tuscaloosa. “She was good at math and science, but after three engineering majors, we said that wasn’t it. She just kind of stumbled on photography.

“She took her first photography class and bought her first camera, and it was on from then.”

Edwards graduated from Alabama in 2003 with a degree in studio art and concentration in photography.

Her family remembers her as an ambitious, giving person. Even after a December 2007 car accident in Tuscaloosa that claimed her life at 30 years old, she has one more gift to bestow.

Her photography exhibit “Reflections” opened this week at the Selma-Dallas County Public Library and will run throughout January.

The exhibit features Edwards’ studio work, but her photography experience also included candid action and nature. She worked as a freelance photographer for the Times-Journal for more than a year before her death.

“I would not have chosen that profession for her. But I started looking at every shot she had done and realized she had found her true calling,” said Melakikki’s mother, Shirley. “I always pictured her work being in a magazine. She wanted to be a fashion photographer. I imagined her being in Africa taking pictures for National Geographic. That’s what I wanted for her.”

Edwards’ photography display kicked off the library’s celebration of Black History Month, which usually begins early, according to Becky Nichols, executive director.

“I think it’s significant, not just because of her talent, but also because it’s a local person,” Nichols said. “We’re always proud to show off a hometown artist. She and her sister, Takesha, have been big library users all their lives. That produces outstanding young people, as you can see.”

Edwards briefly worked at the library a few years ago, long enough to figure out what she really wanted to do.

“The library is like that for a lot of people,” Nichols said. “It helps clarify things for a lot of them, and that’s fine with us. We were proud to have her for the short time we did.”

Edwards hoped to do more with her work, starting with furthering her education. She was accepted into the Savannah College of Art and Design a few months before her death.

Nichols found a copy of the application in the library and showed it to the family before they set up the exhibit.

“I’ve always been very proud of her,” Shirley said. “It’s sad because she never got to go after her dream.”

Still, she did enough to impress some of her closest critics.

“Her body of work was so multi-faceted; it has a little bit of everything,” Shannon said. “You can see her double exposure. You can see where she focused on body parts. You can see where she focused on intimacy and relationships. She tried to bring her personality into the pictures she developed.

“Photography is not just taking pictures. There’s so much more to it than I ever thought.”