Melissa Vincent | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Melissa Vincent

Photo courtesy Melissa Vincent

Photo courtesy Melissa Vincent

Before Melissa Vincent began her Instagram account in 2011, she says she had never considered photography a real art form.

"I've always taken pictures of holidays. I mean, even when I was a teenager (and) all throughout my life, I have boxes and boxes of photos, but I never really took it seriously as an art form or used it for anything other than fun, preserving memories, until I started Instagram," Vincent says. "I became more and more obsessed with it as time went and then, just kind of taught myself by looking online and things like that, just reading about the rules of photography, and then really ... playing around on my phone with apps."

When she joined the social media app, she was one of the first 5 million users, which she believes contributed to how well known her page has become.

"I got so much good feedback when I started," she says. "I can only have so much time to go take photographs of actual landscapes and things like that, so I would take a landscape from Mississippi, and then I would play around with all these apps and turn it into something kind of surreal, and people really responded well to it. So that kind of fueled my desire to continue to do it."

The Senatobia native and current Hernando resident got her bachelor's degree in cell science and cytology from the University of Tennessee in 2001, although she's also attended other institutions, including Delta State University and the University of Southern Mississippi, for a semester. When she's not Instagramming, she's a stay-at-home mom with two sons, Eli, 17, and Ari, 7. Her husband is Matthew Vincent.

In 2012, TIME featured one of Vincent's photos on the cover of its first annual Wireless issue. The next year, Vincent went on a trip to South Africa with National Geographic Wildlife photographer and filmmaker team Beverly and Dereck Joubert for that year's Big Cat Week. There, she photographed lions, leopards and other animals in Botswana. Her roommate for that trip, Beth Weiss, who is a USA Today reporter, wrote an article about her, and Vincent says that is what helped her work go viral.

She says that ever since she saw animals in the wild, she hasn't been to a zoo. "I used to love the zoo. It was my favorite place to go take pictures of animals, and then when you see them in the wild, it's really sad to see them (there)," she says.

Since then, she's had other articles written on her, and last week, TIME magazine named her in its article "Instagram Photographers to Follow in All 50 States."

Vincent says a couple of weeks before TIME released the article, a reporter commented on one of her photos—an image of a woman standing in a field of sunflowers, setting birds free from a jar into a cloudy sky—and asked if the publication could use that photo. Of course she said yes. She joined the ranks of photographers such as Amy Vitale, whom Vincent follows, and other established photographers.

"People don't normally come to Mississippi like they would Hawaii or somewhere like that," she says. "I wanted that to be my thing because I've lived here all of my life. ... I was really excited that it was a state-by-state thing when I found out."

She says that most of her photographs incorporate elements of Mississippi, though some end up looking completely foreign. Her favorite apps to use are Alien Sky, ArtRage and Circular.

See Melissa Vincent's photos on Instagram @misvincent.

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