Written review by
Associate Curator, International Center of Photography
Molly’s series is very good: consistent, witty, and colorful in many ways. The sequencing is also great, with its variations in themes and feels, but with a consistent style. There is something fearless in Molly’s approach to photography, to portraiture and to The Other, that I really appreciated and enjoyed.
The first image is very strong: excellent composition and brilliant relationship between photographer and sitter, and balance between trust and defiance. A very powerful start for the series, an indication that Molly is precisely looking for those moments of tension between herself and The Others, and that space – physical, emotional, and symbolic - between them. Portrait number 2 is also strong, in a very different way: the bright colors and impeccably rendered, the moment is slightly off -off balance, preventing any forced pose, letting the subject go on with her act. The recurring pattern of the circle also reinforces the composition of the photograph. Portrait 5, and portrait 7 are excellent, reminding me of the work of Ed Templeton – a beautiful window into a subculture, very raw, direct. Portrait 6 is perhaps my favorite, such a beautiful movement, and subtle way to express femininity, the beautiful feeling of “pudeur”, a word that somehow is impossible to translate in other languages - part hidden, part exposed, a pact between the photographer and the sitter, rendered beautifully by the perfect hair part and the one visible eye. Portrait 8 is very troubling, a stunning Italian renaissance like, somber, portrait, with all its darkness and trauma. The pose is simple and evocative, the composition stark and inviting. Photograph 9 reminds me more of Irving Penn’s Small Labors, or August Sanders’s iconic series –there is that almost ethnographer’s look on the worker -but Molly’s portrait is more empathetic. In all these photographs, I love the relationship between Molly and her subjects. There is at once curiosity and respect, sympathy but not pitty, and evidently a very positive and subtle invitation to be photographed.
The photographs that are less strong (to me) are the ones where the distance is off, the composition is less intense, the light more direct. For instance, in photo number 3, the subject seems too close for comfort, the subject seems uncomfortable, which doesn’t allow me, the viewer, to fully take him in. Same with the last photograph, number 13: on the one hand I appreciate the closeness, that reminds me of some of Strömholm’s greatest portraits, on the other hand, again, the self-awareness, or in this case the lack of mutual understanding, perhaps - troubles me. In this case, I see a one-way relationship, photographer to subject, as opposed to a two way “play”. That distance, that emotional disconnect, breaks the frame. The distance and the angle, and perhaps also the light - too harsh. Portrait number 4 is great but the woman is a little too self-aware, and again that light may be too direct, the reflection is too visible. I do love the dramatic pose of the subject, both funny and sad, that indicates a lovely relationship with the photographer, but the pose, and the crude light, somehow break the suspension of disbelief, breaks the tension of the narrative. Images 10, 11 and 12 are not as strong as they could be - the two subjects are interesting, but perhaps too frontal, or confrontational?, and the composition never quite gets there: I see that Molly looks for the right angle, the right distance, in fact 11 might be the most agreeable distance, but the subjects are still too self-aware. I guess what serves the good portraits disserves the weaker ones: to almost systematically have the subjects looking at you – to ask the to look at you - will make for either striking portraits, when the sitter has the right distance and poise - or for artificial ones when the sitter is uncomfortable or too comfortable (the two young men).
In retrospect, I think the beginning of the presentation is much stronger than the end – and that a better sequencing would have probably served some of the “weaker” portraits well, by providing a high and low of tempos and moods, highlights and lowlights. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Molly’s universe, her interest in human nature and of life in the margins of society. This album comprises many beautiful spirits and faces of Others, strangers not-quite-completely-met. Molly’s sensitivity is palpable, and her photography is very special.