PHOTO ESSAY BY MOLLY MATALON
WRITING BY CAROLINE TOMPKINS
Molly Matalon, to get introductions out of the way, is a 23-year-old living in Brooklyn, NY. For the past three years, she has been photographing her mother and South Florida, where she is from. These photographs, however, are not an intimate portrayal of the trials and tribulations within their relationship, but rather are a woman’s observations of another woman and that woman’s place in the world. The work is much more complicated than that, as with all mother-daughter relationships, which is why it is successful. It is necessary to introduce Molly in this way, because it is important to know that Molly is a woman, Molly cares about women, and Molly truly loves photography. Her work is an intersection of those three things.
This work is no different.
Molly took these photographs during her time as a teacher’s assistant for a pre-college black and white darkroom course. With the photographs of her mother, Molly explores a woman looking at her mother, a potential future self, whereas these photographs are taken by a female photographer looking at young women in a photography class, a potential past self. She not only looks critically at how these young women are represented, but she is also in a position of power as their superior and as a possible mentor.
The images of the young women on the pink backgrounds, with their overwhelming Becher school vibe, help actualize these girls presence in the real world. While selfies and self-representation are at a necessary and abundant high among teenage girls, Molly considers how these representations exist in an art context and in a history of men looking at younger women. While these photographs and the women pictured are beautiful, Molly explores how idealized beauty is considered within a still image. Because of their cold, German-school quality, they give the viewer a larger responsibility in reading the work. Whether these girls feel like sisters or potential sexual partners or representations of a past life, the photographs become mirrors to our own image of self.
One of the more perplexing images shows a girl lying in the grass surrounded by flowers and a wooden walkway. In this odalisque style of looking at a woman, it can be confusing as to where Molly’s motives lie. By bringing this young woman’s sexuality to the forefront, however, while also clearly referencing the history of the male gaze, Molly gives this woman permission to have a sexuality while making the viewer consider his or her own motives.
It is hard to say whether the female gaze truly exists yet or if it is still a reverberation of the male gaze. Molly considers this within herself and within the subject of the photograph. She questions what makes this pose sexualized, why this young woman chose to perform it, and what it means for a woman to make a historically “male” image. Where Molly succeeds most is in forcing the viewer to contemplate his or her own fetishization and social conditioning.