An Interview Marianna Rothen on the Femme Fatale
The “femme fatale”: the literary trope who always plays as the mysterious, beautiful seductress who will bring man’s demise… and the notion is often presented negatively. However, portraitist Marianna Rothen is trying to change the stereotype with her own character studies.
We’ve got a lucky chance to have Marianna with us as she explains the complexities of the femme fatale through this interview on Lomography Magazine.
Hi, Marianna, welcome to Lomography Magazine! Firstly, what’s the first thing that catches you off guard when you see a picturesque scene, model or view?
My mind always wanders to the things I can’t see. I’m imagining the who and what. Whats being suggested, whats she feeling and thinking. I’m caught by the mystery because it makes me want to know more. I’m particularly struck by pairs and halves. The good and the bad. Windows and doors as well, they act like barriers to other worlds.
For you, what makes a woman ‘attractive’?
Someone that has an unnoticed complexity. Maybe on the surface, she’s sweet and appears pretty but that’s where she’s often misjudged and categorized. I’m looking for something unpredictable that reminds us of her humanness. That seems to be the reason for my fascination with beauty, despair, and fallen stars.
In popular culture, there are many stereotypes and tropes of women. In your imagery, the femme fatale is mostly seen — but often they are portrayed negatively to contrast the stock character of the damsel in distress — the macho man’s favorite stock of a woman. What inspired you to photograph the subject matter?
I started photographing these kinds of women because I felt they were often depicted in a one dimensional way. I wanted to show them from the female perspective and create something relatable not only to myself but to other women. When I started shooting, most of my friends were models. Together we would create a space where they could take on roles that they usually never had the chance to play. A lot of my inspiration is also from images we’ve already seen before and I alter and re-portray the subjects by changing the context. I’ve always seen the damsel in distress as a woman who has the ability to be strong, just like the crazy lady who’s acting out of character.
You shoot in film. May we know why?
I work both digitally and with film. Each image is captured with a digital camera and then photographed again with Polaroid film which is then scanned. This way of working became a necessity when Polaroid stopped producing and the film became expensive. It was important to keep Polaroid in the equation because I didn’t want to lose the photographic quality.
In general, what elements do you look for before capturing a photograph?
Taking a picture is about finding balance. I’m often not only looking but assembling things that I hope will work together. Eventually, it takes over itself and a narrative evolves. My criteria are always: character, mood, story, believability. To me, the point of a photograph is to tell us some truth or make us believe there is a truth.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Who are your muses apart from women?
Although I’m fabricating, my work is personal. Experiences I had growing up and my time spent as a model have influenced me more than I thought. Films, books, and 20th-century culture, in general, continue to interest me like a friend that I feel I’m just getting to know. I don’t think I have any muses that aren’t women but I have lately been sourcing ideas from male icons like Lee Marvin, John Wayne, and Donald Sutherland.
If there’s a character or person (fiction or non-fiction) you most identify yourself with, who would it be and why?
I’ve been feeling a little bit like I’m living in a sequel to Grey Gardens. My boyfriend has been away working for a few months and it’s just me and the dog and my characters that come to life when I get into costume. We have an old ramshackle looking house in the country where I spend the better half of the year working.
“ I felt they were often depicted in a one dimensional way. I wanted to show them from the female perspective and create something relatable not only to myself but to other women… A lot of my inspiration is also from images we’ve already seen before and I alter and re-portray the subjects by changing the context. I’ve always seen the damsel in distress as a woman who has the ability to be strong, just like the crazy lady who’s acting out of character.”
If you could work or collaborate with any photographer or artist, who would it be?
These days my work is mostly a solo production. I feel lucky when I can collaborate with my friends and that has always been an important part of what I do, having this relationship that makes it a shared experience. I dream though that I could do anything with Faye Dunaway. I’d probably be satisfied just being her assistant!
Describe to us — what’s a day in the life of Marianna Rothen?
I wake up as late as my dog will allow me, which is still pretty early, take him for a walk and then do some yoga. Later, after I’ve sent some emails, I usually set up my lights and whatever else I need for my shoot. After lunch, it’s time for makeup and If I’m lucky I have a picture before evening. Most of the time I eat dinner too late because I’ve been peeking at the photos.
What do you usually do during your downtime? Any ongoing project, or other plans you’re keen to work on?
Downtime is spent outside doing garden work or lawn work without my phone. Sometimes I’ll lay in the sun. Typically my life is centered around my pictures. If I can be doing anything that’s pertaining to a shoot or project, however menial, I’m happiest and most relaxed doing that. This summer I started a new project with men. It’s more about the idea of ‘a man’ and all of his facets and how that’s charged when he’s surrounding a woman.