20 minutes with Molly Matalon
& Mo Mfinanga
- Published November 13, 2017
- Portrait by Daniel Shea
There’s something to be said about engaging with an idea rather than simply recognising it, which Molly Matalon, a LA-based photographer, strives to encapsulate in her work. For Molly, photography gives her the ability to furnish a dialogue with the viewer, which we explore in our interview along with her recent move to LA, her latest collaborative book, Olive Juice, among other things.
Mo: Thanks for taking the time to chat for this season of interviews!
Molly: Yeah, totally! Sorry for being a flake! I just moved to LA two months ago so it's been kind of crazy.
Mo: You’re good! What made you want to move from San Francisco?
Molly: I'd come here three times a month and got tired of travelling back and forth between both cities.
Mo: Even without the frequent trips, did you still think about moving to LA?
Molly: Yeah, I was putting off the fact that I liked LA for a really long time. I mean, it's such a vast city to grasp. But then slowly, more people that I'm friends with moved here and it just made more sense. I didn't have a lot of friends in the Bay Area and had a hard time making new friends there.
Mo: Assuming that you have more friends in LA, did you find the creative community there to be more accessible?
Molly: Yeah, I think my friends who are part of my social circle that live in LA are already artists. When I moved it felt natural since I was coming here so much.
Mo: So how was your summer?
Molly: It's been good! I moved in June so the whole month was about moving, trying to find an apartment, and not thinking about work at all. July was pretty busy, work-wise, because I think a bunch of clients, editors, and people I worked with were like, "Finally, you're in LA," instead of needing me to travel to LA. But, you know, when you move, there's just a bunch of road bumps you can't predict. August went by really quickly.
Mo: I always feel like August is a week! It's easier to feel like things are winding down during the end of seasons.
Molly: Yeah, I feel like everything is settling since the year will be ending soon. It's been a crazy year so for me it's hard to feel like things are calm, in some way. I'm trying to engage but not think about things I can't change. But I [definitely] feel like summer is ending. There was a crazy heat wave here last week, and there's the fires, too.
Mo: Was the fire visible from your place?
Molly: Yeah, it was 15 minutes away from me. They were evacuating areas nearby—it was so unbearably hot! I don't know what you wear in 109 degree weather. [laughing] In the bay, you have to have to have a sweater in your car at all times. So [summer’s] just me being stressed out about the heat and money—it's all crumbling! [laughing] But then the heat broke and I got a few checks in the mail so everything feels good in the world again!
Mo: Have you seen the meme about the dog sipping coffee while everything is burning around him?
Molly: Yes! He's like, "Everything is fine." [both laughing]
Mo: I’m guessing that was you this summer? [laughing]
Molly: That was literally me. That's probably why I can't remember August. August was like, "How am I going to pay rent? It's extremely hot, and the world is burning around me." [laughing]
Mo: How hard was it to find a place?
Molly: I had to come to LA a lot to physically look at places. I guess the thing about LA is that things like Craigslist and stuff is only truly a small percent of what's available, because people have owned property here for 40 plus years and they don't want to use the internet. And since they're very protective about properties they put signs in their yard. You just drive around and look for their signs. I found my place after two weeks of hell of looking at 30 of some of the most depressing apartments I've ever seen, and I lived in New York—which is where I went to school. But then I found an apartment through a friend of a friend. He was like, "Go look at this place," and when I walked in I gave them my money.
Molly: The second bedroom is very small, so I use it as an office. The place is in a four-apartment complex. It was once a big home probably and got converted into four apartments. Parking here can be shitty, though. The street sweep here is on Friday's so if I come home super late on Thursday's then it's going to be like hell to find parking. I'll have to park ten minutes away on a hill.
Mo: My friend, who recently moved there, told me how him and his girlfriend weren't used to parking at certain times because of street sweep and got a $75 parking ticket the next day.
Molly: Oh yeah. I didn't really catch on to the days of each side of the street for two weeks and I got four $75 tickets. I currently have one sitting on my desk from a place I accidentally parked without thinking.
Mo: I don't know what's worse, parking in LA or New York?
Molly: Maybe Los Angeles because in New York not everyone has a car. The thing about LA is that every single person has a car. So if you're on a residential street, everybody has their own “spot” even though it’s just street parking.
Mo: A scenario I'm curious about is parking at friends' houses.
Molly: That's a thing; people take Lyft’s if they're going to parties to carpool and also not have to drive after drinking, and ultimately not park. But also, LA is super neighbourhood-y in the sense that, for example, I don't know people that live in Hollywood. All my friends live on the kind of east-ish side, even if its Downtown, which I guess is still considered east.
Mo: Do you feel like everyone in LA is in their own bubble? If so, what ways is it similar to San Francisco?
Molly: Well, in San Francisco I never actually got my foot-in anywhere. I feel like I was in my own bubble. I literally hung out in my home all the time or I hung out with Damien [Maloney] every day. In LA, I'm also in a bubble in the sense that all my friends know each other, and I have introduced them to other people who are also my friends, and thus connect them all. I like to think I am the great uniter. [laughing]
Molly: To me, a bubble is the same as a social group. The internet is a social bubble, and there are communities within the internet. You discover people who are outside of your bubble and get excited about them and wonder how you can get them inside your bubble or something like that. [chucking]
Mo: It's funny because usually when I discover a person, nine times out of 10 I'll know four or five people associated to that person.
Molly: It's rare to find free agents.
Mo: Exactly. It's interesting to me because everyone is connected in different ways. I remember finding out about Geordie Wood three years ago, and that turned into knowing who Jake Stangel was and it snowballed from there.
Molly: Yeah, and I feel like there's also peers and mentors within the bubbles. Like, people you'd reach out to, or in my experience, when I was living in New York, I'd reach out to people who I considered were a few steps ahead of me, and wanted to become their friend, which became a mentorship in some kind of way. Those communities then intertwined, where it's like, Daniel Shea and Ryan Lowry, two people who I considered as my mentors, are now my close friends. You know, the social circles just blend or evaporate.
Mo: It's interesting when you think of the worldwide creative community. There's a lot of photographers in America I'm familiar of, but when it comes to photographers in Spain or Europe, it's like I'm just learning about that world.
Molly: Totally, and it works in age brackets, too. You might know someone who's worked as a studio manager for a old well known photographer but that photographer would probably be out of reach. It's so much easier for someone to reach out to me than it is for them to reach out to Katy Grannan, not that I think that we're in the same bracket. [laughing] But sometimes I feel like people who are 16, 17, or 18 email or DM me with these crazy advice questions or statements about loving my work—which is so humbling—but it also makes me feel like saying, "Go pick up a History of Photography book or something." Because if I'm someone you look up to, then I think that's crazy because I'm trying to figure out everything as I go, which other people like Katy Grannan are, too, but it's on another scale that feels out of reach, you know what I mean?
Mo: Totally. Speaking from firsthand experience, when I was in high school, you'd see that happen more because people like you are more discoverable.
Molly: Yeah, the accessibility is so different. [Instagram] makes the world seem very at-your-fingertips.
Mo: Sorry, but I just noticed that my phone stopped recording during our interview when a phone call came up. If you don't mind, could you talk again about your relationship with photography? I remember you mentioning how photography let's people connect to the world.
Molly: No problem. Some photographers think that their relationship to photography is them relating to the world, and I feel that maybe my photography is me relating to the inside of my head, and the inside of my head relating to other people, which ultimately is the world? So photography becomes an excuse for me to be with someone, and then be alone with them without them there, like I'm alone with the pictures. [laughing] I've always felt this way, when I was photographing my mum. It was very much about this picture-taking experience being a way for my mum and I to hang out since we don't really hang out. It became clear to me that, that’s what was happening. I was using photography to figure out my relationship to her. Viewers interpret the work as, "Oh wow, look at this woman, look at Florida, look at women, look at mums!" Not, "Oh, it's so cool. She's rebuilt her relationship from the ground up.” And then I'd go back to New York and think about the pictures without her there and come to these conclusions about her, my life, women, and all these things. I'd be using that same mentality when I'd photograph men, my friends, or stuff around me.
Mo: Were you mindful of that mentality when you and Damien did Olive Juice?
Molly: Yes! At first I was using the camera as an excuse to hang out with him. I liked him! Much of the ideas inside Olive Juice came to fruition somewhere mid-way and after making the work—really just sitting with the photographs. It was a hard thing to figure out because it's so emotional. The project is me and this person who's my best friend talking about love, sex, and relationships. So we'd be sitting down together and go, "Okay, these pictures are about the ambiguities of the two of us, but also its not about us; it's about other people." Photography is so much not about the thing, it's about the other thing.
Mo: What stood out to me about it was including Emily Keegin in it. You have you and Damien, both visual artists, and then Emily, a curator of visual artists, for lack of a better term.
Molly: I like to think of myself as being an academic, which is probably just an ego thing, but I have a mentality where I'm interested in sharing and hearing thoughts. It’s not unique to me or anything [pauses] but it’s relevant for process. I feel like I became much of myself when I was in school so I'm tied to that [kind of process]. It made sense because when we were first putting together the work we would send it around via email to people who were peers, former teachers, or friends, just being like, "This is what we're working on. What do you guys think? We're trying to figure it out." That was very helpful because we'd have back-and-forth emails with friends, teachers of mine, and people Damien knew as well; Emily was one of them and she was particularly enthusiastic about the work. Emily makes pictures, definitely, but she's more of a curator of sorts, so having her point of view was really important to us.
Mo: In pursuit of that project, what conversations did it open up between you and Damien that you never got the chance to explore before? Furthermore, what ideas, if any, did it open up about your career?
Molly: I'll answer the career stuff because it's way easier to talk about. [both laughing] How I've come to photography is so much through books, so it's a goal of mine to have books and make books. The process of pitching to publishers and figuring out how the hell to get someone to make a book for you, if you're not Lee Friedlander, opened a lot of doors and conversations with people I had never talked to. Some people reached out to me and mentioned hearing that we were making a book. It opened up this other door about art making, seeing the book, and being on board for the whole process solidified me as being someone who wants to make photography books. It was so encouraging and validating.
Molly: Damien is one of my first close male friends that I did everything with. I have those friends from college that I considered my family members, so Damien is like this other kind of friend. I have this with Damien because we were talking about such intimate things in the work and literally, like, you've seen me naked now but we're not sleeping together, and how do you talk about that as friends? It was a lot of new hoops to jump through in terms of building this friendship, and obviously not all of it is good. Making the work made us closer and pushed us away from each other at the same time.
Molly: The whole book was made while we were getting to know each other. I never met Damien prior; we were just friends online and thought, we should make work together. The whole getting to know each other path that people take, we were taking it while we were making pictures of each other and while we were talking about photography. There were moments where it was unavoidable [knowing] that I'm a woman and he's a man and I want to process these feelings. All these things that would happen in regular friendships was on display in the book, but at the same time not really, because it's so much not about pictures of us, if you get into the meat of it.
Select images from Olive Juice
Mo: One thing I noticed about your work the past couple of weeks was the amount of publications you shot for that aren't American.
Molly: I want to work for more international magazines! I think they're more creatively open and they have interesting assignments; there's just always some financial thing. In Europe there's a billion magazines—everyone has one—and they're all made on their own, so there's usually lower budgets or weird payment thing. I’m no expert, though. I actually went to Europe for the first time last year and it was sick. And then, just recently, me, Damien, and Corey [Olsen] went to London in the end of May for meetings.
Mo: It was cool to hear Damien talk about that experience of showing up to meetings and it's the three of you. It makes sense to do them together instead of meeting with the same poeple at different times of the day.
Molly: Yeah! I was like, let's just make them group meetings, and I'm going to send group emails because it's so much more organised that way. And I think that bleeds into what we were talking about earlier about social circles, where it's like [pauses] why not have a meeting with two other people, if it's low risk, like, a magazine. It's not as if we were meeting with Adidas. If I was meeting with Adidas, I would probably go on my own because its high risk. I feel secure enough in each of our works to know that we do different things. And even if we were in competition, who cares? I'd rather it be with someone I know, love, trust, and am inspired by get work also. People we had meetings with thought it was really cool. Someone asked us if we were a collective, [both laughing] and I was like, "I'd never use that language, ever," but I think my friend group functions as one.
Mo: You'll have some people who are very close to their work and don't want to involve others, which is understandable. But your guys' approach is interesting because it's something rarely heard of.
Molly: Yeah, and I don't even know how it became that way. It just feels right to me so I wanted to let it happen. It's a dog-eat-dog world so why not [compete] with someone I like rather than someone I can't stand.
Mo: Do you feel like if you had just picked up a camera right now, how would you access the creative community as it is in LA, now?
Molly: I think the obvious thing people would say is going to events, and I think that works to some extent. I'm not sure if it works going alone to events. I frequently email people I don't know and go, "What's up? I love your work. What are you thinking about? I wanna know!" My friendship with one of my best friends, Vivian Fu, is purely built on the fact that I emailed her out of the blue years ago saying, “Hey, I like what you're doing.” And we had this back-and-forth email dialogue that I eventually wrote a part of my thesis with. So I would definitely email people for sure; I still do it. Not everyone will get back to you, but sometimes they do, and that feels good.
Molly: So many of my friends, besides people I met in school, are from the internet. I became friends with Corey because one of his friends I followed on Tumblr knew I was going to SVA and suggested I meet him since he was going there. It's all about participating in some kind of way. I often want to remind people that I know these people because I went to school with them, and we are close because of the obvious. We laugh at the same things and think critically about the same things. We’re not celebrities or anything, just friends! Socializing via the internet is what I was brought up with. Putting pictures of my friends and I hanging out up online is very normal to me, but the internet really creates a system where that’s interpreted differently, and creates some kind of status. [pauses] There’s a push and drive to make each other better, to share work and insight with each other. I think I’ve completely gone off track from your question about LA’s community but this feels important to say: I think the core of it is that, in the beginning, we were going to the same place every day, school and although that has an insane price tag, it still feels priceless?
Mo: I know we've delved into this briefly, but what do you find the purpose of your work to be?
Molly: I think it definitely changes. I mean, it has changed before and will morph in the future. It's like an ebb-and-flow system in terms of what the actual purpose of making work is. The core of it I think relates to a social level, which makes me think about my upbringing and childhood where I felt like I didn't really have friends or never had a community, and sort of discovering that part of my personality in my early 20s, versus as a teenager. The root of my work I guess, is to find a way to interact with someone. It's interesting to think about, though. I think right now the purpose of my work is to find out who and what I'm attracted to and why, and how to move past admiring something and engage with it. I'm interested in desire and attraction—figuring out those two things. But in the past, I felt like the purpose of my work was to figure out my family. Maybe the whole answer of what the purpose of my photography is figuring out who I am.
Mo: Or who you were at a time.
Molly: Who I was, am, and how I'm moving forward.
Mo: And in what ways do you want to move forward in 2018?
Molly: I don't know. [laughing] I definitely want to be less cynical, but that's not going to happen probably. [laughing] I definitely want to be more open, inclusive, and encouraging, meaning just encouraging myself.
Mo: I’m curious about what you think fuels your cynicism, because I know I’m not the most wide-eyed 20-year-old one could be. [both laughing]
Molly: Just the series of events that is My Life and the weight of the world. [laughing] I feel like most of my teenage years was my mum telling me that sarcasm is really ugly on a woman. And I think sarcasm comes from negativity, depression, and cynicism and I want to get away from it, but it feels like a part of me.
Mo: Do you feel like that cynicism motivates you as well?
Molly: Yeah, because I want to be able to say “I told you so!” [both laughing] But also I do find that to be ugly when I approach it in the world. I find sarcasm to be unattractive but I do harbour it as well. I'm just trying to get better every day! You can't tackle the whole thing, so you have to tackle small parts.
Thanks for reading
Where can we follow you?
- Website and Instagram
Last thing you googled?
- Conspiracy celeb devil video
Favourite food(s) and drink(s)?
Sushi and Diet Coke.
What are your most used apps?
Instagram and Twitter.
What's your unwritten rule?
Stay emotionally 50 feet from all men until proven otherwise.
What's your ideal hotel window view?
I never considered this until I got my first travel job and a friend told me to ask for the top floor of the hotel if it’s available. So now that’s my ideal spot. The top with a view. Makes me feel like batman.
What will your tombstone say?
Lover to few, friend to many
What question(s) are you tired of being asked?
How many tattoos do you have? What kind of camera do you use?
How many tattoos do you have?
Just took off all my clothes and counted—53.
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