JTF (just the facts): A total of 26 color photographs, unframed and pinned directly to wall salon style in the entry hallway and the main gallery space. All of the works are inkjet pigment prints from the series Anatomy, made between 2008 and 2013. Physical sizes range from 10×7 to 42×29 (or reverse), and each of the prints is available in an edition of 3+3AP. A monograph of this body of work was recently published by Twin Palms Publishers (here). (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: When seen covering the walls in an all-over display like this one, Malerie Marder’s nude photographs of sex workers from Rotterdam and Amsterdam are like a catalog of female forms: light and dark, young and older, thin and more fleshy and full figured. Naked bodies lounge on beds and in special rooms, an uneasy mix of vulnerability and eroticism, peppered by a dash of seen-it-all resignation and toughness. But while we’ve certainly been exposed to plenty of images of prostitutes across the history of the medium, Marder’s pictures offer something new, both in their open forthrightness and in their unconventional use of light and color.
If there is a visual cliche in “prostitute photography”, it has to be the use of sultry, shadowy, reflected neon light that bathes everything in a nighttime red glow, alternately sexy and downright depressing depending on the mood of the photographer. Marder’s images reject this premise and do just the opposite – her subjects linger in bright, pure daytime light, radiating a subdued, unexpected freshness. Her colors are often light and lively (deep sky blue, pastel yellow, bright orange), making the settings less heavy and dreary. Mirrors catch fleeting expressions, and in once case, set up a tricky turned bodies visual inversion.
While there are a few forlorn looks in this collection of photographs, for the most part, these women seem quietly at ease, more pensive or tired than particularly victimized (their path to this life is unstated). The usual trappings of the profession (sheer lingerie, dyed hair, overdone makeup, lacy drapery, and even one latex fetish costume) seem like distractions, the elegant lines of curvy bodies and odalisque figures coming forth in spite of the surroundings. A few gentle, unadorned poses find their way to moments of surprising grace: the shapely, lilting turn of arms above a head, a gauzy cloth draped over a reclining face amid angled arms, and the overlapped forms of a group of unlike bodies creating faint echoes across a composition.
The overall feeling here isn’t saucy or tantalizing, but something far more everyday and normal, with its own kind of restrained beauty. What I like about these photographs is that behind their formal clarity, they are open for interpretation; is that muted look one of confidence or endured pain, one of choice or a punishing lack thereof? That deliberate uncertainty gives Marder’s subjects more mystery and complexity, making it impossible for us to find a stable conclusion about what we are seeing. These sophisticated and nuanced photographs move us back and forth, delivering a tender richness that undermines our expectations.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced between $2000 and $8000 each, based on size. Marder’s work has not yet reached the secondary markets with any regularity, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.