MAÍRA SOARES: Este Seu Olhar Photobook

By Sol Salama. May 31, 2012


Maíra Soares picks up the camera with the same ease she picks up her guitar. With one or the other, the condition is to dive into innermost and emotional stories close to her like Este Seu Olhar, the project that won the demo contest held in BlankPaper on May 19th. A project where Maíra explores her identity placing herself –literally– inside the photographic landscapes that belonged to her parents’ life.

What came first, photography or music?

Music. Since I was a kid I liked to sing, I grew up in a house surrounded by music. I dreamt of becoming a singer, but shyness stopped me from choosing music. At university I went for Journalism and on my second year I had a photography course. The possibility of being present "everywhere" and discovering the world bit by bit fascinated me. The camera gave me the perfect excuse. I thought it was more powerful than sitting down to write articles. And also more precise, because my point of view would always be based on a real experience.

Do you feel more comfortable with any of these two art forms?

I don’t know if I would describe it as comfortable; I don’t see the creative practice as something comfortable. For me, it’s something that I am passionate about, that gives me the opportunity to provoke internal spaces. Maybe my voice comes out more naturally, but I think there is a lot to explore in both art forms. And to do so I have to maintain a constant practice. It’s very hard for me to do both things at the same time but when I develop one I feel like the other one is also growing.

Almost all your projects talk about yourself. Would you also like to talk about others or they don't deserve it?

When I started taking pictures I liked taking portraits, I mainly photographed people. I was very curious about knowing the world and its stories. But, in the last few years I have experienced many changes and the more I question things, the more I feel the need to look inside. I think it is natural that this is reflected in my pictures.

In Este Seu Olhar you deal with your parent's relationship playing with past and present. What was the creation process like?

When I found the pictures my dad had taken of my mother I was surprised by her look, the purity and happiness it conveyed. What impressed me the most was how much we change throughout the years; how we forget feelings or behaviours that one day were so natural. After seeing the pictures of my mother and not recognising her I wanted to discover who that woman was so I decided to use photography to that end. At first I thought about doing the whole image again, I searched for settings and objects similar to those in the pictures. But the first results frustrated me; there was an artificiality that annoyed me. I decided to take a shot of my image on its own and then place myself inside the original picture, replacing my mother. It seemed more coherent, it was as if I was visiting her space. I studied her look in the mirror, I imagined the context, my father’s position, the time of day. Some of the pictures were really hard. I repeated them several times because I felt I hadn’t achieved the lightness that the pictures transmitted. I was seven years older than her when the pictures were taken and I felt “old” to express the purity I could sense. I wasn’t trying to make them exactly the same; it was my version of the story, with my present-day timestamp too. But I wanted to be as close as I could to the feeling I got from the images.

What do you think the book format adds to your project? Are you thinking about holding an exhibition?

The book proposes a trip between both periods and causes a certain confusion and mystery in the spectator. I thought about this format with the help of Siete de un Golpe and Underbau. Inside, as in the artistic edition, you can’t see the images of the diptychs at the same time. Also, in no page opening you can see my portraits next to my mother’s, since both periods appear always alternated.

We chose a small format (13.8 x 10.4 cm) to endow it with a more intimate character. The book is wrapped in a pink leather ribbon that suggests it is a precious object that can hold a secret. Maybe the first mystery is its name, since it is covered with the ribbon. These are the details that, like the pink washi paper, give a delicate touch to the demo. The project has an artistic edition prepared before the book and it will be exhibited in the museum of the University of Alicante until September; but I intend to exhibit the pictures in another format. In any case, I will exhibit one diptych in Madrid Foto and another in PhotoEspaña.

What has this last project meant to you?

I have realised that photography gives me the opportunity to create answers I don't have. With it I can draw my history, filling all blank gaps or giving another context for what I think has to change.

Which have been your photographic influences?

I think the first that made a deep impression on me was Diane Arbus. Then I got to know others that still influence me: Francesca Woodman, Cindy Sherman, Sophie Calle, Rosângela Rennó and Cris Bierrenbach are some of them. With the research I did while working on my project I learned about the work of photographers that I loved like Álbum by Ana Casas Broda, Imagine Finding Me, by Chino Otsuka, or Carla Cabanas and Jim Goldberg’s work.

In addition to art, what else has taught you the most?

Teaching. For two years I was a teacher in two photography workshops, one for young people in Paraisópolis and another for deaf people in the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art. The proposal was to use photography as a means of expression and communication. Each of the groups posed different challenges and I learnt so much from them.

Any new project in mind?

I have started to research images from my childhood. I have very little memories from those days and many of the sensations are not good. There are portraits of me from my childhood that disturb me. I think it is worth looking through those images to see what they really evoke. 

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