Photographer, Madeleine Morlet, describes her work as “cinematic, dark and deeply romantic”, a remark cheekily followed by, “romantics are often failed classicists.” Having worked for the likes of Vice, Somesuch and i-D, Madeleine’s latest project The New Wife marks the first in a series of highly-personal works centred around her new experiences of motherhood.
“In the last two years, I moved from London to a small town in regional Maine and became a mother,” she tells It’s Nice That. “These life changes weren’t planned as none of my friends had started families yet; no one told me how parenting is just like returning to childhood.” With a new sense of responsibility, Madeleine evaluates how, in her experience, “new parents and teenagers exist in parallel universes.” The photographer ponders: “Where a teenager might wonder if her parents know she’s stoned, parents also wonder the same thing about their teenage babysitters knowing they’re in fact stoned.”
Madeleine used her new experiences as a mother, and as a foreigner, to spark her latest project. The New Wife marks the first of four episodes that altogether embody the series, Homecoming; culminating in a solo show at The Dowling Walsh Gallery this September. While themes of motherhood inherently infiltrate the shoot, the starting point for the series was actually rooted in Donna Tartt’s widely acclaimed inaugural novel The Secret History. For those that have read the book, you’ll recognise the connection between this influence and Madeleine’s opening statement about romantics and classicists.
In a similar tone to the lucid novel, Madeleine is “interested in creating images that feel cinematic, dramatic and unsettling.” While The Secret History follows a group of students in Vermont, Madeleine works with real teenagers to stage eery scenes that similarly kindle nuances of comradeship and femininity. “Our stylist Emily Seymour managed to seamlessly create this wasp aesthetic using clothing from thrift stores and Walmart, which is kind of ironic”; adds the photographer.
The shoot invokes the dark undertones of the novel with its striking compositions. Each image draws out the starkness of the black and white uniforms against the affluent, East Coast backdrop. “I loved the image of a woman smoking in kitchen gloves and the classic twin set and pearls, so I titled the shoot The New Wife,” says Madeleine. “It plays with the idea of a preppy, New England family and how this group of teenage girls reacts to another woman in their space.” Though the photographic series summons its influences with moody flair, the episode “should read like a fictional narrative, while being open to interpretation.” With the second shoot of Homecoming underway, “which is sort of like the bastard child of Lord of the Flies and The Wizard of Oz,” Madeleine’s show in September promises to be a beautifully vivid exhibition with an emphasis on storytelling.
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