Los Angeles-based Molly Matalon is fascinated by the intersection of image and identity. Her work speaks to the formative relationships that frame our lives – the connection to family, friends, lovers and the relationship we have with ourselves. She explores themes of intimacy, desire and vulnerability using photography’s transformative power to confront uncomfortable truths.
Matalon made a name for herself with her long-term project Mom. “The photographic lineage of people shooting their family has always interested me,” she says. “I have a complicated relationship with my mom, she has a lot of expectations about how I should present myself in the world, so I was interested in reflecting that back to her and visualising how she presents herself.”
Mom is a multifaceted body of work that not only deals with the mother/daughter relationship but also questions western ideas of women, femininity, age and beauty with an honest curiosity.
From there, she turned the lens inwards taking a series powerful body positive self-portraits. “It’s really important to me to include myself as a subject now and again, not always being a looker or pointer at others,” she says. “I wanted to engage with the difficult task of confronting yourself. These shoots have also informed how I photograph other people; I want people to be comfortable.”
While these images are deeply personal, they are also fiercely political. Each photograph confronts the viewer, starting a discourse about the representation and visibility of a non-stereotypically beautiful woman. The work offers an unexpected intimacy and an opportunity to push boundaries in and outside the frame.
In 2016, Matalon created Olive Juice, a book project published by Vuu Studios in collaboration with Damien Maloney. The project is part road trip journal, part travel memoir that situates the viewer somewhere between the backseat of a moving car and the edge of a motel bed. Presented as a non-linear narrative of still life, portraits and landscapes, Olive Juice explores the notions of friendship, intimacy and gender. The project ultimately confronts the ambiguities of representation in photography by including anonymous work shot by both artists. Their individual narratives interweave, leaving the viewer unsure where one artist starts and the other ends. The book deliberately challenges ideas of authorship and gaze, skewing the traditional gendered point of view.
In the last 18 months Matalon focused on a new direction informing both her subject matter and aesthetic approach. The new work deals with romance, desire and power dynamics as she looks at men from a feminist perspective. “I’m really interested in how desire works for women – so much visual art is from the male point of view,” she says. “I’m photographing men who I desire and subverting that. I’m interested in creating a mythology of romance; leading the viewer into a situation but playing with gaze and viewpoint so the images ask more questions than [they] reveal answers. Relationships are a mythology to me. I’ve never been in one, so I have many ideas in my head about what intimacy and desire looks like.”
The inspiration behind the new work is from archival porn images. “There is an erotic image archive in San Francisco called The Magazine. I use to go and sit in the back room for hours flipping through binders of nude/pornographic Polaroids and 4×5 contact prints by unknown photographers from the 60s and 70s,” she explains. The work is in constant progress as her themes and ideas continue to evolve. “I’m interested in peeling back layers, feeling my way through the unknown, bring open and following my intuition.”
We take pictures to better understand our surroundings, experiences and ourselves and Molly Matalon is no exception. She celebrates uncertainty, blends fantasy with reality and subverts our preconceptions about just about everything.
Matalon’s work is currently on display as part of ‘Fever Dreams’ curated by Jamie Allan Shaw. The exhibition spotlights the work of four up and coming unsigned photographers. The exhibition looks at the blurred lines between art and commerce, bringing attention to the experimental, sensual and playful work of these boundary-pushing artists. Fever Dreams runs until March 16, 2018, at Webber Gallery, London