Marlene Marino is known for her natural, often nude, portraits of women. Shot in the bedroom, kitchens and living rooms of her models, these images are filled with a beauty and intimacy that is universal, no matter their locale. In Oysterissue #92 she discussed how, for her, photographs of other people are still a very personal subject.
Kate Williams: Travel is such an important part of your work. What are some of the places you've been to recently?
Marlene Marino: I was in Russia, Israel, Japan, Peru, France and England in the last few months. I want to see all of the important places in the world; the historical places; especially the ones that have affected me directly. My mother is Cuban; that's the connection to Russia. I did a project on Cuba a few years ago with Purple that was published into a book, and I still have extended family there. It's always a little bit complicated. They are not communist, but they are very adapted - even if they disagree with the system, there is always a sort of conditioning.
What was it like working in Russia?
Russia was exciting. I went to Saint Petersburg first, during the white nights - which is when the sun doesn't set, basically. it's very, very strange. You just don't sleep, so your energy is very wiry. it's impossible to sleep before 3am, because people are grocery shopping at 2am [at least] we were. and there are drunk people who've been out all night, and it feels a bit like a zombie land. I'd attempt sleep at 3am, but the sun was blazing again. I found amazing girls who were unique and beautiful. I photographed a 15-year-old girl at home in her grandmother's apartment, which was in one of the Khrushchev [era] buildings. The decor was fascinating - russian kitsch. The russian aesthetic blows my mind. It's too much in almost every way, and beneath that there is a faded elegance?
When you shoot in such different places, do you consider each shoot to be a separate project, or part of something bigger?
It is all a part of a larger project. I would say that these are all different projects, but that there is a connection in my work that is just something very me. They are all about women, and featuring women in a certain light, in a personal and autobiographical way too.
Do you see a common thread running through the women in these different places?
Yeah. Men problems [laughs]. That seems universal. I think that women are similar when it comes down to a basic level. The work I do with women is about my ideas of being female. I do go for a certain type of woman, but not really. I mean, not all the time. What I am trying to get at is something personal, and playful, and sincere.
You've said that you have photos of you, taken by an ex-lover, that sparked your interest in photographing nudes. Can you elaborate?
Well, I dated someone who was head-over-heels in love with me. At that time, we were really in love and we really trusted each other, and he photographed my every mood and expression, it seemed. He really liked taking photos of me, and in those photos I'm completely relaxed and secure. It's a beautiful thing when someone is not just taking a photo of you, but when they can actually see you. This is what I try and bring to my work.
How do you usually find your models?
There's no one way; usually by spotting someone. For my personal work, I use people who aren't professional models, because it's not based on a standard beauty. I prefer to shoot women in their spaces, but sometimes they don't have a place of their own. For example, when I was in Peru I planned to photograph actresses from a famous Latin soap in their homes, but it was impossible. They are still living with their super-macho dads, because they don't move out until they're married. It's a strange blend of super-conservatism, and also not. There's a late-night talk-show host who is kind of hot and a total sleaze. He's openly bisexual, running for president, and he's very popular. One night he had a 60-year-old prostitute on who was running for Congress. She's very foul-mouthed. She grew up in a wealthy family and was disowned at 19 for getting pregnant, so she became a prostitute, and she seems really comfortable with herself and she could win. In Lima, many women wear extremely tight clothes where you can see every contour - but they can't be photographed naked because it's taboo, and then they would be labelled sluts.
Your parents were both immigrants to the US. Do you think this has influenced you as an artist?
I come from a strange background - my father is a Colombian immigrant and my mother a Cuban refugee. They drifted around a lot in search of the American Dream. My father had a great sense of humour; there were always magic tricks and salsa parties, which was a bit of a problem for our Mormon neighbours. My parents were a part of the first wave of immigration and did not quite know how to blend. I went to 20 schools before graduating high school, so you can imagine that it was a hell of a childhood. But I think that the more peculiar your childhood is, the better artist you are, usually.