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KEEPING IT SURREAL: photographer Marjorie Salvaterra's bizarre, beautiful body of work

L.A.-based photographer Marjorie Salvaterra's art makes me feel something. I don't know what it is... but I like it.

photos courtesy of Ralph Pucci International

Up (from ICE series)

I tend to favor photography as a medium. Always have. And Marjorie Salvaterra's slayed me the moment I laid eyes on it. Powerful black and white imagery with women of all ages, body types and skin colors wearing absurd matching wigs, retro swimsuits, conventional 1960s sheath dresses, straitjackets... or nothing at all. Waist deep in water launching black umbrellas (the rain kind, not the beach kind) into the ocean, smoking cigs and getting hammered, kissing one another other on the mouth, pulling each others' hair, chasing gigantic balloons, floating in mid-air. Rebellious, reborn, silenced, playful, trapped, dead. Snippets of life being lived irreverently and outlandishly. When I first viewed this smorgasbord of surreal situations, I felt... hmmm, let me think for a sec. Stimulated? Empowered? Intrigued? Amused? Uncomfortable? Let's call it a combo platter of all of the above. Everything I saw felt oddly out of place, but at the same time, right where it belonged. Who was this mystery woman behind the lens? I was getting dark shades and sexy black trench coat vibes.

Push (from ICE series)

When The Universe Has A Bigger Plan For Your Life (from HER series)

Keeping Up With The Janes (from HER)

Bee Nice (from DEAR MARJORIE series)

And then I met her. It was Ralph Pucci that first introduced me to Marjorie Salvaterra. You see, when Ralph Pucci discovers an artist, one must pay attention. He's the man behind Ralph Pucci International, a world famous NYC-based luxury furniture, lighting, and mannequin (yes, "mannequin" ) gallery that represents and exhibits big industry names like Vladimir Kagan, India Mahavi, Paul Mathieu, Pierre Paulin, and Ruben Toledo. About a year ago, Pucci, a keen-eyed supporter of emerging talent, was presenting one of his remarkable new finds, L.A.-based photographer Marjorie Salvaterra, at his Wynwood gallery. Needless to say, I was there in a New York minute. (Actually, it was more like an hour and a half. And if you've ever suffered Miami traffic, you feel me.)

It turns out the artist was not at all like I'd imagined based on her work. Instead, I met someone I'd likely be friends with: a genuine "cool mom" with a pretty face, bubbly personality, and big smile. She was rocking a killer pixie cut and smokey eye while shaking hands, giving hugs (keep in mind this was pre-coronavirus) and signing copies of her book: Her: Meditations on Being Female.

portrait of the artist

I gushed and told her I was wild about her work. I had so many questions and was dying to interview her. However, it was Marjorie's big night and not the appropriate time.

But this is. So here goes:

TDR: I loved your last show. Where do you get these "stories" you tell in your images?

MS: That's actually the hardest part, coming up with the stories beforehand. They either pop into my head or I take them from my own life: wanting to fit it in; the mental exhaustion of trying to 'keep up with the Joneses'; aging... all the drama of womanhood. For instance, my SHEILA WITH RED HAIR series is based on my mother's generation, when women felt they had to look perfect, keep everything a secret, and hold their feelings in. And then they would lose their minds.

Sheila Goes To Market (from SHEILA WITH RED HAIR series)

Sheila And The Bridge Girls (from SHEILA WITH RED HAIR series)

Sheila Prays (from SHEILA WITH RED HAIR)

TDR: Do you try to send a certain message through your photographs, or do you prefer they be left to one's own interpretation?

MS: Art is subjective, so I love when people connect with my work in their own way. And when they tell me they can relate, I say 'Thank God I'm not the only nutbag.'

Rejection Is Protection (from DEAR MARJORIE series)

I'm Sorry. I Didn't Know You Were The Same Person. (from DEAR MARJORIE)

Eye Unraveled 2 (from HER)

Faith (from HER series)

You Are Not A Tree (from DEAR MARJORIE)

TDR: Critics have likened your photos to stills from European art cinema by filmmakers like Fellini and Jean Luc-Godard. Does this make you happy?

MS: I don't set out to do that... it just happens. But I love old movies and theater so I take that comparison as a high compliment.

Him (from the HER series)

Wear Your Cross With Grace and Dignity and Your Cross Becomes Your Crown (from DEAR MARJORIE)

TDR: Your work contains a good deal of satire. Is that your sense of humor translating into your art?

MS: Yes definitely. So many things can go wrong in life. Once during a shoot, I dropped a hammer on head and ended up with a concussion and a broken nose. All my naked friends - who were the models - started hugging me and asking if I was okay.

In times like those you just have to laugh!

The Janes 2 (from HER series)

Marjorie Salvaterra's complete portfolio can be viewed on her website:

You can inquire and purchase (as I will be doing!) through Ralph Pucci International or by calling Ralph Pucci Los Angeles at 310.360.9707

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