After losing his brother, Tim, to a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 2005, Michael McWilliams spent years searching for a way to raise awareness about TBI's. Inspired by Marc Peruzzi's December 2013 Outside feature, After The Crash, and its lead image of a watermelon duct-taped together, McWilliams began photographing melons every day and sharing his images on Instagram with #amelonaday. With twenty-some days left in his 100-day-long project, McWilliams has found that a melon is the perfect way to bring attention to an often invisible injury. McWilliams: Tim was my idol. He embodied warmth, charm, and cool with very little pretense. He was a ballbuster as well. #amelonaday was prompted by @elleluna, when she asked me to participate in #the100dayproject after noticing some of the melon images I was making at the time.
What's the Main Goal of this Project?
Awareness, Awareness, Awareness... Awareness is what this has always been about for me. People don't know what a TBI is, and they need to know. It is and has been a silent epidemic for way too long. It needs a loud, vibrant voice. Someone suffers a TBI every 21 seconds in the U.S. How have we gone so long without talking about this. Not anymore.
Do You Really Carry Around a Melon All Day?
Yes, I carry a melon everyday—all day. The only times you'll see me without it are when i'm chasing my two-and-a-half-year-old son. When I get home I rest it up on a shelf.
How Did "After the Crash" Affect You?
The Outside article was really significant for me. At the time, I was really throwing myself into learning more about brain injuries and had been actively pursuing a way to communicate the cause. The entire piece was inspiring and eye-opening. When I saw Hannah's image, it hit me really hard and the light bulb turned on.
Why Photograph Watermelons?
It's actually any melon! Lately the campaign has been watermelon heavy but any melon will do. A melon just seemed like a great way to communicate an idea very simply.
What's Your Favorite Shot?
All of the images inspire me differently and I have a connection to each one. The first photo of Adam Pearce (The Crash Reel) is special as that day was pure kismet. He happened to be in the city and texted me within 20 minutes of the melon idea hitting me. To this day, it still blows me away how everything seemed to come together that day.
How Has "The Crash Reel" Affected You?
The Pearces (of The Crash Reel focus) are hard to sum up in a few words. Their story resonates with me on so many personal wavelengths. The #loveyourbrain campaign really sums it all up for me. It's perfect. I feel that I've only begun to learn from them. I'm just stoked to see what more we can do together and it feels great to have young energetic dudes in the same corner trying to make a difference and create real change.
Does One Aspect of the Project Stand Out?
One of my favorite moments was when @elleluna told me she was in New York City and wanted to get together to take some melon photos. I'm a huge fan of her art and I feel so blessed to have crossed paths with her. I feel grateful to her for challenging me to make the commitment to the 100 days. When she drew a portrait right on the melon, it was a special moment for me.
How Powerful a Role Has Social Media Played?
I can't say enough about the communities in apps like Instagram and Stellar. These folks are so kind-hearted and genuine. This project was entirely possible because of social media and Instagram. It gave me a voice and the power of connection. I'm so thankful for that.
How Has this Project Helped You Grieve for Your Brother?
This project is another part of my story. My brother's TBI occurred in October of 2001. He passed four years later. I probably started truly grieving just last year and all that I do, from the brand (digs apparel) to #amelonaday, to sitting on the Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey, comes from that place in my soul. I work with it every day, and it has always pushed me creatively.
Listen to that inner voice, as crazy as it may sound and put something into action. Leave your expectations at the door, put your head down and dive in.
I have 25 days (May 23) of melon carrying left for my personal commitment. #amelonaday is just beginning and is really a creative way to generate awareness. We are aiming to launch Digs Apparel later this year and there is much to do. #amelonaday has provided additional wind in our sales and we are really excited to think about how we can continue to make good things happen for the cause and perpetuate giving.