Melissa Weiss lives to be Marilyn Monroe.
Most days, Weiss plays Monroe on Hollywood Blvd. where she’s surrounded by Batman, Shrek and Spiderman, who stole $6,000 from a Starline Tours leader in April.
Los Angeles-based photographer Tamar Levine first met Weiss while working on a project about the characters on the Boulevard for a class at Art Center.
Some of the characters that Levine met were homeless or drug addicts, and she was surprised when she met Weiss.
“There was an innocence about her that I don’t usually see in people, especially in L.A.,” Levine said.
For the past eight years, Weiss and Levine have collaborated on their shoots. Weiss will bring her own costumes based on albums filled with photos of celebrities.
On one shoot, Levine went to Weiss’ home, a trailer near Hollywood Boulevard filled with memorabilia and costumes devoted to Monroe (Slides 3, 13 and 14).
Weiss had to give up her trailer a couple years ago after the police cracked down on boulevard characters in 2010. She's been on the move ever since.
Now, they meet at the hostels or motels where Weiss is living and improvise locations that they are both happy with.
“What's cool about shooting her the whole time is that at this point we have a mutual trust,” Levine said. “I would never want her to feel exploited.”
Even though the two have a trusting relationship, Weiss is selective in what she will discuss about her family life.
"Melissa doesn't talk much about her past," Levine said. "But it seems as though her characters are an invaluable escape for her."
For Weiss, the shoots are a chance to experience stardom, even if some of the portraits are taken in a rented room at Motel 6.
But perhaps Marilyn Monroe would have been a fan of Weiss. As Monroe famously said, "Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring."