Madeleine Morlet (b. 1987 Sydney, Australia)
Madeleine Morlet is a photographer from London, now based in Maine. She studied Classics and English at King’s College London and for almost a decade worked in video production for companies such as Ridley Scott Associates, Vice, i-D and Somesuch.
Her recent photography series has shown nationally and internationally. It was awarded the 14th Pollux Award, Feature Shoot Emerging Photography Award, honourable mention for the 14th Julia Margaret Cameron Award, honourable mention for the Don’t Take Pictures Prize for Contemporary Photography, Lucie Foundation Photo Made Scholarship, Ellis-Beaugaurd Studio Residency, and shortlisted for the Lucie Scholarship Chroma X Luxe, Belfast Photo Festival, and Felix Schoeller Photo Awards.
Madeleine works as an Editor for Teeth Magazine.
Adolescence is an archetype for our times, reflecting on the restless building of social bonds and the surprisingly concurrent feeling of total isolation. This project began as a love letter to youth, attempting to translate the ephemeral state of early motherhood through the lens of adolescence. The dramatisation of adolescence served to examine identity and personal relationships, constructing imagined narratives that tapped into a history of storytelling, and acted as a fictional counterweight to my own experience.
The project revealed to me that our uncertain and self-conscious times are not met alone, but amongst our communities. This shift of perspective encouraged me to extend my practice beyond fantasy, grasping to contextualise these characters within their actual lives. The idea of approximating the real alongside the imagined is intended to destabilise our impressions of reality, illuminating the inherent contradiction of pure reality or pure fantasy within photography.
When and how did you get started in photography?
I have always taken photographs, our family albums are evidence of this. My first purchase, from the money I earned babysitting, was a camera. That said it wasn’t until much later that I was able to see myself as a photographer, after trying many things I found myself always returning to photography.
What does photography give you? What is it that you try to achieve with photography?
There is a unique companionship to be found it photography, it’s a marriage, and a child, a parent, a beloved dog, a home, and a selfhood. Photography is the tool I use to synthesis my relationship to myself, to time, and my understanding of the zeitgeist. I don’t feel even close to knowing what I am trying to achieve within photography, it’s an ever-moving goal post, but my greatest hope would be a lifetime commitment.
What do you think makes a truly great image?
What a question! The simple answer is a marriage of content and form, but we all know that this isn’t exactly true. I believe that there can be a shared experience of what is great, but for an image to be truly great it needs to move you. It’s like love, or the laws of attraction, a truly great image is not dictated by logic, it touches some part of you other images never were able too.
Who were your early influences and where do you get your inspiration from today?
My first conscious influence was Nan Goldin’s Ballad of Sexual Dependancy, I wanted to live in this book, to recreate the images as if reenacting scenes from a film. Next it was Daido Moriyama and Nobuyoshi Araki, images which built tension and atmosphere. I turned to film makers, Michael Haneke, Yorgos Lanthimos, and then to photographers who staged filmic scenes, Philip Lorca Di Corica, Justine Kurland.
Recently, I have become interested in photographers who disrupt form, Rinko Kawauchi, Damian Heinisch. I want to find greater subtly in what I am making, and for the first time am investing in research of work that is nothing like my own. I am looking for something outside of photography, that I can bring back into it, trying to find ways to visually translate non-visual concepts and literary devices. I read a lot of fiction, and non-fiction, perhaps in another life I would have been a writer or a director. The single frame is so limited, as I work towards the constraints of the photo book there is this potential to create a piece of work that brings an audience on a journey, as in literature or film. How can I push the capabilities of photography to create a layered experience? This is something I am really excited to continue investigating.
What drew you to pursue a project on this subject? How did the idea come about?
A few years ago I moved from London, to a small town in coastal Maine, and had a baby. At the time I felt a kin-ship to the adolescent experience, a shared coming-of-age. This was a love letter to youth, where I attempted to translate the ephemeral state of early-motherhood through the lens of adolescence. The experience has been transformative.
What is your shooting process and work flow? How much of the project is staged vs documenting candid moments?
As my child has grown, and my subjects have begun to graduate high-school, my perspective has shifted. The need for fantasy or escape has evolved into a desire to attempt at contextualising these characters within their actual lives. I do try to move between the two work flows, and carry a 35mm camera for ‘candid’ and a medium format camera for ‘staged’ moments but what I have found is that reality in photography is always seen from the perspective of the author. What feels candid in viewing, can be very staged and vice versa.
How did your project develop and change between your start and end dates? What challenges did you face in the making of this project?
This project is still evolving, but it has changed significantly since I applied. I set out to find a reflection of self, and tell a story about motherhood, but instead I have made a body of work about adolescence. The greatest challenge is of course finding funding, shooting on film means that often I have a box full of exposed rolls waiting to get developed. This is a practical issue. A conceptual challenge has been the acknowledgement that I am making a book about Youth, and therefore I have a responsibility to be representative of a broad experience of adolescence here in Maine.
What do you find most fulfilling about this project?
I guess this project is my coming-of-age story as an artist, and in it I have had all those lessons that come with growth; learning how to think for myself, appreciating the experience of making, and this camaraderie with a community.
Has receiving a Lucie Foundation Scholarship impacted your career, and if yes, how?
The Lucie Foundation Scholarship was my first award, and yes it definitely impacted my career. It’s been a pleasure to update Teal with my program, and to be held accountable as I work towards my set goals. To have a tie to such a reputable institute is something I’m incredibly grateful for.
What’s next for you?
As I mentioned above, I am working towards bringing this project to life in book form – then hopefully it will feel complete and I can move on to the next project!