Patty Maher’s images are full of stories. Shadows of conversations with whispered words emerge from her photographs. Even though the woman so clearly anchored in the pictures is not looking at the viewer she is telling him a story. A story about the nature that surrounds her. About the seasons, their beauty, their special atmosphere and their colours. Besides, Patty Maher’s images invite you to become part of the work’s intrinsic narration.
Emerging from the unavoidable question what the woman is doing in the middle of a seemingly nowhere, she turns into a female figure and with this into the surface for self-reflection. There is a subtle invitation underneath the images’ sometimes dramatic, sometimes romantic, surrealistic compositions: Come closer and follow her into the woods…. Why not do so and create a story of your own or even your own one?
When did you start taking pictures? Did you study photography?
I started taking photos about 5 years ago. I am completely self-taught with no formal training or background in art.
How much time do you spend selecting and retouching your images?
I select the image I’m going to use pretty quickly and intuitively. Usually I cull down my photos from a session to a couple of final choices then pick one. Retouching can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours depending on the photo and the complexity of the effect I’m trying to achieve.
How do you find your subjects?
Most of my photos are self- portraits, although they are designed not to look like me. I use myself as a model because I’m most readily available, and costumes plus photoshop allow me to look as different from myself as I want. I also have several friends who act as models for me pretty regularly.
Do you think you need a philosophy to create your photographs?
This is a great question. My overarching philosophy is ‘create’ – period. I think the fact that human beings have the ability to create is a tremendous gift, and doing so allows us to transcend the more mundane aspects of life. Within that I find that I create from many different places: from the lower to the higher parts of myself. Some days I create out of a need for attention or competition, while other days I create out of a deeper and more spiritual part. I think the most important thing is being aware of what part of you is urging you to create. If I find myself creating from the lower parts of myself too often I take a step back until I can locate myself in a deeper place that has more resonance. I try not to judge the lower lives in myself that move me though, I think they have their place and they can be useful in pushing me forward. But I think it is a far more satisfying experience, and ultimately results in better art, if I can dig into the core of myself and come out from there.
How did you develop your own style?
I didn’t really set out to develop my own style – I just did what I liked and after some time it was reflected back to me that I had a style. My main goal in the early days was to take photos that had a story, so I wasn’t so much worried about ‘developing a style’ as I was in developing story lines within my photos. I only later discovered that having a style was something people worked hard to achieve – so I guess in that way it could be said that I fell into a style by trying to create stories with my photos. Now that I have a style that I am aware of, I am really of the opinion that it should be a growing and evolving thing. Style can so easily translate into ‘formula’ – and having a formula for creating can really deaden the whole creative process. It can also become a prison if you aren’t careful: people like what you do, recognize, applaud and follow what you do and that can lead to a fear of change or growth – especially if you hold onto the winning formula at the expense of the creative process. This past winter I spent some time purposely trying to do photos that were different in style to what I’d already done, with the goal of breaking through that fear in order to allow different ideas to flow in. The results were mixed, some things worked and some things didn’t – but overall I’m glad to have tried it.
What influences you / what are your sources of inspiration?
I’m inspired and influenced by many things: the nature of the day, the changing seasons, things that happen in my life, songs, poetry, the work of other photographers, art, props and costumes I come across….to name a few things. I think inspiration can come out of so many varied and unexpected places.
How did you get your first assignment/job/magazine feature/exhibition?
In general, most opportunities I’ve had in photography have happened because I’ve asked for them – especially when I first started out. Some arrived unexpectedly – like getting featured by yahoo – and that was, and still is, a tremendous gift. Now that my work is more ‘out there’ opportunities are better able to find me, but I will never have a problem asking when I see something I’d like to do or a place I’d like to be featured. The internet is full of opportunities to get your work seen, but it’s also full of a tremendous amount of talent – so I don’t think there will ever come a point where I can rest on any past success and have the opportunities keep arriving at my doorstep.
Did you ever feel discriminated because you are a woman in the photography business?
No, I’ve never felt any kind of gender discrimination in photography. If I have sensed any discrimination at all, it’s been age related as there are definitely certain opportunities, or networks, that seem to favour photographers who are 30 and under. But having said that, discrimination is a very hard thing to quantify – and in this day and age where boundaries are being broken on a daily basis, I think it can easily become an excuse if you aren’t careful. I spent a good deal of time really thinking very hard about this last year, and ultimately I decided that everybody who has ever tried to do anything in this world has a handicap – something they need to get over, break through or work around – whether it is real or imagined. In photography right now there are 20 year olds breaking new ground, doing things that have never been done before, and creating work that is staggering in its beauty. That’s just simply a fact. But there is absolutely no reason why a person of any age can’t be creating at this level. The spirit never grows old – but the mind will, if you let it.
What was the best advice you ever received and/or what would you like to tell prospective/aspiring photographers?
Essentially my advice would be: keep trying, don’t give up and don’t worry about what other people are doing. You have something unique to offer that only you can do.
How would you describe your photographic look / your style in five words?
I think the 5 things that I strive for in my photography are embodied by these words: surreal, optimistic, quirky, unusual, and beautiful.
Thanks Patty for this great interview, take care!
Have a look at her inspiring website and social channels.
All images created and © Patty Maher 2015