Anyone who’s been to a photography fair knows that they are visually exhausting. It’s difficult to stay engaged as you wander through seemingly endless rooms of photographs, so it’s all the more exciting when a photograph manages to grab you. This is what happened to me at Photo London when, enthusiasm waning, I stumbled across Dolorès Marat’s photographs in the In Camera presentation.
I was especially caught by Marat’s 1987 photograph of a woman riding the escalator of the Paris Métro. Behind the woman is a wall of blue tiles, the shadow of the ceiling appearing almost as a vignette; the image is at once naturalistic and dreamlike, an everyday scene hazily rendered in cool colours and soft shadows. The woman’s glamorous appearance – polished bag, smart coat, neatly coiffured hair- and the dynamic angle of the escalator, suggesting its movement beyond the frame, are somehow reminiscent of a film still.
Marat first became interested in photography as a teenager. In a 2014 interview with Leica, she recalled, ‘one day, in a geography class, I suddenly thought, “I want to be a photographer.” […] it came from deep inside! I didn’t even know what it meant.’ But Marat’s mother had different plans and persuaded her daughter to train as a seamstress instead. Whilst working for a Parisian tailor, Marat picked up a cleaning job in the house of Mr. Froissart, a local photographer. Noting Marat’s interest in photography, Froissart offered to hire her full-time and teach her how to take photographs. Marat accepted and subsequently spent her mornings cleaning and her afternoons learning how to use a camera and develop photographs.
On leaving Froissart’s, Marat found a job as a lab assistant at a magazine, where she later became studio photographer for ten years. It was only when her children had grown up and left home that she began to work on her own projects. She has been a freelance artist ever since.
Working in colour, Marat eschews post-processing, stating, ‘For me, the photographic act is situated at the moment I take the shot. I want it to be perfect straight off. If a picture’s not what I wanted when I get the slides back, then I throw it out. I’d never think of reframing.’ Nor does she work in series, preferring to group images by theme in retrospect, as she did in her books on New York and Paris. Widely published and exhibited, she remains passionate about photography, noting, ‘thanks to photography, I have been happy since I was 15.’