When photographer Sarah Malakoff was a child, she was obsessed with the period rooms of museums and found herself trying to imagine the various dramas that could have played out behind the velvet ropes that surrounded the rooms.
It wasn’t only those period rooms that attracted Malakoff from an early age; she wrote via email that she was also constantly rearranging furniture. “I think it was an attempt to transform and control my surroundings at a time when little else in life is in one’s control,” she said.
Malakoff has been working on Second Nature “for a long time” and said that she started by photographing her own spaces and those of her friends and family, eventually growing her network to include colleagues and more serendipitous encounters, including her friends’ dates. She still shoots with film, lights the scenes, and moves things around to call attention to what she’s hoping to achieve.
Born in Massachusetts, Malakoff lives in Boston and said most of the images were taken in the New England area, but she has also taken images in Texas and even in the Netherlands. “I tend to find and relate to things close to home,” she said. “I even think there are autobiographical aspects in some of them.”
As she was working on the images, Malakoff noticed the ways in which nature found its way into the interiors, often in humorous ways. She said she started seeking out rooms where wallpaper, rugs, furniture, and animals—both real and figurines—represented the ways in which the home became “ … a refuge from and at times a recreation of the outside world.”
People never make their way into the images in Second Nature, though their presence is certainly felt. Malakoff said she wanted to suggest a narrative within the images—like the period rooms in museums she looked at as a girl—but asks the viewer “ … to take some creative initiative to engage with it.”
“I think that there is also something uncanny about these spaces. Viewers may have the experience of feeling something familiar in the images, and yet also something odd, off, even anxiety-producing in some,” she said. “I have thought about other tensions as well—between absence and presence, old and new, real and surreal, genuine and artificial. Perhaps the desire to resolve these questions or tensions contributes to the curious nature of the images.”