From the way Marjorie Salvaterra describes how she works, she could be taken for an author, a screenwriter or a director. Like a writer waiting for a stroke of inspiration, this American actress-turned-photographer says “I mostly wait for images to come into my head before I shoot them, which can mean I don’t shoot for weeks at a time!”
Enigmatic as any modernist play or fantastical film by Fellini, Marjorie’s photography series are hallucinatory, surreal and puzzling. Each image is like a tableau, sitting at the heart of an intriguing story which has no beginning or end. They often gesture to famous, male works of art, like the brilliant parody of The Last Supper with its all-female cast.
Is it important that photography raises questions? Marjorie answered: “To me, YES! I love the idea of showing more than saying.
“My first image was The Weight of Water; the photo of the women standing in their gowns in the ocean. It was the start of my HER series. I had taken my daughter to see the play Wicked. I was watching and suddenly realised I was the bad witch. The good witch was dressed to the nines. The bad witch was dressed all in black (my uniform!) Her skin was green. I had been ill and was grayish-green. Suddenly, I saw the image of the women in the water. I gathered as many of my friends as I could, had them meet me the following week at the crack of dawn at the ocean and sent them in!
“I think the fact that I grew up going to see theatre and watching old movies really has an effect on my work. I love theatrics!” Whilst acting in Herb Ritts’ only film – a black and white short – Marjorie “was much more interested in looking through his piles of photographs than actually rehearsing!”
The women in her series are imbued with a real sense of character, haughtily gazing at the camera or marching forwards like shop mannequins come to life, bent on revenge. Wearing wigs, masks and ball gowns, these are no ordinary ladies.
“_Old Venice_ was based on my old neighbourhood of Venice, California. It was changing from a hippie community to one of the fanciest areas in Los Angeles. I wanted to use models that matched the feel of what I was showing. The woman in the photograph was a friend of a friend, I met her that day. She was 94 years old and one of the funniest, smartest, trash-talking women I’ve ever met. I absolutely fell in love with her!
“In a way all the women are parts of me. Or parts of every woman. I didn’t want anyone to be clearly identifiable — to be the more non-specific “HER” — where each person can read into the piece or series and what it means to them. When I first envisioned HER I wasn’t feeling well and still had to be a good mother, wife, photographer, friend… and on top of that, had to dress the part of someone who could do it all. I have been shocked to see how many people, especially women, have responded to the work and the emotions it brings up.”