Malerie Marder is a Los Angeles-based photographer. In the late 1990s she studied photography at Yale University under Gregory Crewdson and was influenced by the epic, cinematic photographs for which he is renowned. Early in her career Marder became known for her unconventional nudes and portraits using herself, family and friends as models. Many of these images are staged in affluent suburban settings, thereby establishing a tension between the familiarity of the location and the unexpected activities of the subjects. Marder has commented: ‘A lot of times, photographs illustrate something directly, and I think my pictures are much more complicated and also ambiguous when they’re pointing to something but it’s more open-ended’ (Esquire, December 2002). Marder takes a ‘directorial’ role in her photographs: she scouts locations, casts her models and stages various scenarios to be photographed. As viewers we are cast in the role of illicit observers – there is a sense in many of her photographs that we are seeing things not intended, that we are voyeurs.
The setting for Marder’s photograph Untitled, 2001, is deceptively benign. It is a prosperous, domestic scene that would not be out of place in a glossy magazine. The intense, saturated colour and glossy surface of Marder’s photograph recalls innocuous, upmarket, advertising imagery. Via the proxy of the artist we look out through French doors onto a lush garden. In this familiar setting a moment of drama is unfolding. Within the image a young woman is running, arms outstretched and eyes closed. Her head is thrown back and she appears consumed by either ecstasy or terror. The intensity of the scene is heightened by the fact that she is blindly propelling herself towards the closed glass doors. We are witness to that fateful moment before a collision in which time seems to elongate, when we have a sense of sickening certainty that an impact is about to occur, yet we are mute, unable to shout a warning to prevent the impending disaster.
Marder’s photograph is like a still from a pivotal moment in a movie. There is an implicit sense of narrative in the photograph, we subconsciously construct a ‘before’ and ‘after’ for ourselves to try to explain the somewhat shocking ‘now’ she is presenting to us. Why is this young woman running? Will she hit the door? We can only guess at what drives the girl in the blue dress; it remains a mystery to us whether the heroine in Marder’s melodrama is running towards something unseen by the viewer or fleeing some horror just outside the picture frame. She appears ungainly, her outstretched hand is artlessly positioned, all detail in her fleeing form is blurred by her motion. There is a sense of mystery and anticipation, and an uncomfortable quality in the image that comes, at least in part, from the artist’s self-declared ‘willingness to be awkward’
Suzan van Wyk, Curator of Photography, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2004).