Molly Matalon’s Photographs Maintain Intimacy in Isolation

Published April 1, 2020

Photo by Bobby Doherty.

Molly Matalon’s practice is largely based on intimacy, whether it be a physical proximity to her subjects or the nature of their relationship; close friends regularly occupy the New York-based photographer‘s lens. This harmonious sensibility—in addition to the distinct glow that punctuates her photographs—is integral to the visual language she’s engineered since graduating in 2014 from The School of Visual Arts, where Kathy Ryan was her mentor. It’s also evident in her new monograph, When A Man Loves A Woman. Initially intended to debut at the LA Art Book Fair at the beginning of March—the event was one of the industry’s earlier victims of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US—the book, published by Palm* Studios, has subsequently accessed a further layer of intimacy, arriving instead directly into people’s homes by post or Instagram.

“I put out a book called Olive Juice in 2016. It was a collection of pictures made with fellow photographer and friend Damien Maloney. It was more or less my first time photographing a man in an intimate way, and it sparked my interest in doing so,” Matalon says. “Living in Oakland trying to figure out my life, just making pictures and navigating the world thinking about romance, desire, loneliness, pairings… Eventually as an artist you realize, ‘shit, I’ve been doing something substantial!’”

When A Man Loves A Woman collates a selection of images taken over several years since 2015. At its core, it addresses gender, exploring desirability and vulnerability, male nudity and the female gaze. While the pictures themselves are largely independent of one another, they’re married by a shared perspective. Her pictures are soft and romantic—“some combination of sensual and erotic, while also thinking about desire, longing and loss, and the small box men are given to explore masculinity and how it’s performed.”

The game plan, Matalon says, was always to publish: “I think photo books are the best way to look at photography.” That hers might arrive in the current climate, with intimacy growing increasingly complicated, could never have been part of the plan; its release, though, is a timely reminder of the importance of closeness, and a welcome distraction from the gloom and doom of the news cycle. Below, Matalon walks us through the stories behind the lens of some of our favorite photos.

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“FRANKIE”

“This one is a portrait of my friend Frankie. I took this in an Airbnb I was staying at one May in London, during Offprint/Photo London. I think a few friends were in the room as well, because I was visiting and often use making pictures as an activity. [Laughs] This is the one and only time I’ve photographed him thus far in life. I wanted to make some kind of still life in the front part of the picture because I wanted there to be some kind of food or natural context. Also, Frankie is an amazing photographer that I admire, and I thought the yellow drink in the glass reminded me of something he might photograph.”

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“GREEN GLASS DAISY SOCKS”

“This is another picture made in London. I was doing a lot of traveling there between 2016 and the present. A lot of people I love live there, and my friends and I decided to try and keep a tradition of going to Photo London every May. I often buy things that I know I want to make a picture of, but it doesn’t automatically reveal itself to me. I loved this green glass bottle, and one morning went to take a picture of it outside where some friends I was staying with had been drying laundry. I love the boyhood aspect of white tube socks.”

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“HARALD”

“I think Harald is so beautiful, and I wanted to photograph him while I was visiting London. This was in an Airbnb kitchen that my friends and I rented while we were visiting; we’re mostly all photographers, so I think picking a space that has the potential to make work in is important. Harald has previously interviewed my friends Caroline Tompkins, Jamie Shaw, and I about an exhibition we were working on in Milan, which was cool because he had a foundation of understanding of where my head was at in terms of making this work.”

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“JUSTICE”

“I’d never met Justice before this picture, but we have many mutual friends, and it turns out he lived on the same block as me when I was living in Los Angeles. I feel this picture is very much a collaboration, as I had one idea of what I wanted to take a picture of, and he made suggestions resulting in this one. I took this picture of him and we went and ate Cuban sandwiches for lunch after.”

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“GRAVES”

“It felt like these graves found me. I was in Italy with friends and we went to the Staglieno Cemetery in Genoa, Italy, originally to look for the Joy Division statues from the record covers. It’s in the back of the book with a blank page before it to separate it from the bigger edit; to me it feels like it’s its own piece that says it all. I find it boring looking at a book of just one subject, repeated. I’m interested in making more than one type of picture because the world offers so much.”

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“THOMAS’S CHEST”

“A few years ago, I was visiting Los Angeles with my friend Damien Maloney. Some other friends from New York, who were dating at the time, Thomas McCarty and Zak Krevitt, were staying at Zak’s family house and we went over for a swim and a barbecue. The light was right and we were all swimming and it just seemed right to take this picture. It’s one of the older ones in the book.”