Malle’s newest show, “The Lost Virgins of Gabriel,” opening this evening at the Ennagon Gallery in SoHo, consists of 14 large-scale photographs — some of which include her daughter, Jade Berreau; Jade’s daughter Secret, and Jade’s friends standing on beaches, their bodies painted in red and white.
Though Malle, now 58, won’t specify the exact inspiration, she says they were undertaken to work through an emotional crisis. Shot on digital and printed on cotton rag paper, the photos have a grainy, painterly quality. They were taken in 2008 and 2009, many in the Hamptons, some in St. Barth’s.
“It was a time that was very difficult. A lot of pain involved for me and for my daughter,” says Malle, whose dancer’s frame and elegant, youthful features are a reminder of her years in front of the camera.
Berreau was the girlfriend of the downtown auteur and artist Dash Snow, who died last summer of a drug overdose (Secret is Snow’s daughter.) Malle says the impetus for the new collection occurred prior to Snow’s death, but the connection underscores Malle’s closeness to the tightly-knit New York art world. A childhood friend of Jacqueline Schnabel, Julian Schnabel’s first wife, Malle has also included in the show still photos she shot of their daughter Lola Schnabel’s upcoming short film, “Le Bal des Ardents.”
“Lola and I — we go way, way back, even before she was born,” explains Malle, who for many years took pictures of children — in Paris, then in New York, where she moved in her late twenties — to keep her art photography business afloat. “I started taking photographs of [the Schnabel kids] when they were very young,” Malle says. “I dressed them up, and we played. Those pictures are still in their house.”
For Schnabel, having Malle on the set of her film — which features her twin half-brothers in a royal fantasy tableaux, inspired by a visit to The Cloisters — was a seamless transition from their friendship. “I wanted somebody to document what was happening on the film, and I’m just very comfortable with Martine,” Schnabel explains. “And she takes beautiful photographs.”
Schnabel’s film, her graduation project at The Cooper-Union, centers on the relationship between two confident boys on the cusp of puberty, which might seem a far cry from the haunting images of “The Lost Virgins of Gabriel.” (The title refers to the idea of purity — the virgins on the beach — and their angel).
“Actually, some shots of Lola’s movie and the shots I did matched so well,” Malle says of the unlikely combination of photos in the show. “The way I shot [her half-brother], he looks like he has a big white wing, and I realized, ‘That’s Gabriel.’”
And though Malle and Schnabel don’t have immediate plans to collaborate on another project — “This one was very seamless,” Malle says — Schnabel is a happy colleague of the woman who used to walk around her childhood house “like Marilyn Monroe.”
“I am always kind of creating a myth about my subjects, and Martine has a much more natural way,” Schnabel says. “In her photos, you feel like she is getting that in-between second of someone — stealing the moment.”