READING THE NEWSPAPER, WALKING down the street, going into a store—these are all places where Margeaux Walter ’01 finds inspiration for the colorful reflections on society she creates and then photographs.
Walter is far more than a photographer. She creates tableaux to present concepts of humans’ relationships with their environments. And she does it all—from conception to props to staging, and even becomes part of the image herself. She sculpts, designs, paints, creates costumes, and performs. She has created costumes made from pine bark and grass, decorated sets with multiple rolls of toilet paper, and covered subjects with candy sprinkles. Humans (usually Walter herself) are included in most of her images, but they are generic representations of flattened personalities.
“My characters are more stand-ins for generic people,” she told the New York Times, where she often is commissioned to create images for the paper. “I’m never replicating them as personalities.”
Walter received her MFA from Hunter College in 2014 and her BFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2006. Her work has been featured in publications including the New York Times, New York Post, Seattle Times, Boston Globe, Courrier International, and Blouin Art Info. In her work, “the people disappear into the scene. I have always thought of them as a standin— a lot of my work is influenced by and trying to replicate advertising. I think of these characters as someone you would cut out of a magazine and [present as an] ideal. My face is a lot less present in my current work so that the characters are less recognizable. I am using my body as a tool.”
Excess consumption is a running theme. She has a particularly fraught relationship with IKEA, the Swedish purveyor of home goods.
“I used to go and pick a random room to sit in and do my sketches,” she says. “It’s a pretty awful experience, but I find it full of inspiration for people watching.”
IKEA’s contributions to the world’s pollution problems were part of the inspiration for her works that are focused on the effects of consumerism on the environment.
“People just buy things and there’s no relationship [in their minds] between what they’re buying and the effect on the planet,” she says. They are “buying things in an effort to shape their identity. This process of buying makes you think you’re bettering yourself, yet it often has the opposite effect. Our relationship with consumption is really complicated. I find the mindset behind it really fascinating.”
Her most recent series, Believe Me, takes its inspirations from the same expression oft-used by a certain former president. In Believe Me, Walter used a drone to capture a “God’s-eye view” of images she staged featuring herself as a faceless character in various environments. Prior to receiving a drone as a gift, she would shoot in a studio, unable to reach the heights available with a drone. Walter usually takes pictures in sections and tiles the results together to get maximum resolution, she told the New York Times.
“I was blown away by this new perspective,” she says of the drone. “That series looks at and reimagines our environment from a distance.”
That project was thinking about climate change and waste, Walter says. “I substituted consumer goods for natural objects in a tongue-in-cheek way to reveal environmental concerns through humor and perspective play.”
The photographs in Believe Me resemble “surveillance images that one might find in Google Earth,” she says in her artist statement. These “site-specific temporary installations in the environment…challenge our current post-fact world influenced by scripted and hyperbolic reality television, fake news, sensational journalism, and virtual experiences.” Believe Me took three years to complete, and Walter says she doesn’t print the images until the entire series is complete.
Throughout the pandemic, Walter has continued to brainstorm new concepts. Her in-progress series, All Natural, is an ongoing exploration created in quarantine.
Within the All Natural series are images of bare feet inside an aquarium complete with puzzled goldfish. A faceless woman staples flowers to the upholstery of chairs. And a pair of feet in scuba flippers swims past a shoe holder filled with tropical creatures.
“These images reflect a human desire to connect with nature, and the failure of that connection with the influence of commerce, consumerism, lifestyle, and comfort. Due to COVID-19, we have become even more isolated from nature, from each other, and from the world, multiplying some of these emotions,” she says.
—Bonnie Blackburn-Penhollow ’84
Margeaux Walter has received multiple honors from the Magenta Foundation Flash Forward, HeadOn Photo Festival, Photolucida, Prix de la Photographie Paris, International Photography Awards, the Julia Margaret Cameron Award, and other organizations. She has been awarded artist-inresidence programs at Montalvo Arts Center, MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Marble House Project, VCCA, Red Gate Gallery in Beijing and BigCi in Bilpin, Australia (Environmental award). In 2020, she was the recipient of the 2020 Sony Alpha Female Award. She is represented by Winston Wachter Fine Art in New York and Seattle, and Foto Relevance in Houston, and has participated in dozens of exhibitions at institutions including MOCA in Los Angeles; Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton, New Jersey; the Center for Photography in Woodstock, New York; the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio; Sonoma County Museum in Santa Rosa, California; Tacoma Art Museum in Tacoma, Washington; and the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, Massachusetts. Visit her website at margeauxwalter.com.