Mar 19, 2014

Phlearn Interviews Patty Maher

Patty Maher is a self-taught photographer, who only began taking photos a little over three years ago.

Patty is originally from Toronto, but moved to the north and currently resides in Caledon, Ontario, Canada. Patty has also graduated from post-secondary school with a Masters in English Literature, and at the moment she works as a marketing manager for a publishing company.

When asking Patty about what she wants to say with the work she creates she says –

“In the first instance I really just hope to say something to myself – to capture a feeling or notion outside of myself. If a photo works for me that way, I then hope it will work for others. So my larger hope would only extend as far as to put something positive or thought provoking into the world – that it might cause someone somewhere to pause, or perhaps see something differently.

Join us in this insightful interview with Patty Maher. She speaks with us about her creative process, her and her husband’s wedding photography business – and how to balance working in two different areas of photography. She shows us her post-processing work with beautiful before and afters, provides us with a list of her favourite artists and photographers, and she talks about the evident theme in her work which is a “faceless woman”. Enjoy!!!

How did you become interested in photography?

I’ve always been interested in photography but I decided to try it myself about 4 years ago. I realized that I wanted to express myself creatively, and photography seemed like a great way to do that.

Do you have any formal training in photography or are you self-taught for the most part?

I am self-taught, although that includes a lot of advice from other photographers – sometimes directly, but often simply by enjoying their photos and asking myself what I felt made those photos excellent. I also forced myself to read my camera manual, searched the web on all things technical, and of course, trial and error.

What inspires you?

I definitely get inspiration from all the “usual places”: art, nature music, poetry, and other photographers. But sometimes I just trip over it in unexpected places like the grocery store, or on a really bad day. For me there is nothing better than finding something positive that can be pulled out of the mundane or negative things in life, and creating photographs is a great way use that kind of energy.

The post-processing of your images are always executed impeccably. First I have to ask, how did you learn your editing/post-processing skills?

Thank you! I learned some things on my own, but I have also learned a lot from watching tutorials (like the awesome ones on Phlearn), and just asking people. Effectively I learned post-processing one concept at a time, slowly growing my skills into a larger “processing repertoire”.

Secondly, how important would you consider Photoshop/post-processing to be in your work?

When I first started, everything was SOOC – and I really mean that literally as I had never used processing software. For example I didn’t even realize you could actually use it to straighten a photo – I deleted a lot of early photos because they were tilted! These days photoshop is crucial to what I do – I literally couldn’t create the photos without it.

Who are some of your favourite artists and/or photographers?

That is such a tough question because there are so many great artists and photographers who inspire me and as soon as I start naming some it’s really hard to stop. I’ve always had an affinity for the Pre-Raphaelite artists and I look at their work a lot for inspiration. I love Banksy and so many of the things that he stands for. I’m amazed by Gregory Crewdson, and Rodney Smith’s work just charms me with its simplicity. I am simply in awe of the breathtaking and intricate work Kirsty Mitchell does for a single photo. Lately I’ve really fallen in love with a lot of the conceptual photography work that’s coming out of Eastern Europe. I also have a long list of photographers I know personally or who I follow on flickr who inspire me with everything from street photography to landscapes, and from macros to conceptual work.

A common theme within your work is to depict a faceless woman. In the beginning, this is something you were doing without realizing, it was an unconscious decision. So my question is, how are you approaching this new found information in regards to how you create your work? And do you think depicting a faceless woman could hold any meaning?

I do have an affinity for the anonymity and mystery that comes from a photo that doesn’t include a face – but at the same time, I also think faces can be equally powerful as well. Some of my favourite photographs do actually include faces. But when taking self-portraits I simply find the story more compelling if they don’t look like me, I just don’t want the photo to be about me (note the irony). When I shoot other people, I’ll ask if how they feel about including their faces – some don’t mind, and some would rather stay anonymous, so I just work within that.

What is your proudest moment as a photographer?

My first proud moment was being included on someone’s website at all. It was about 3 and ½ years ago and one of my photos was chosen as photo of the day on Shutter Sisters 365. I absolutely just couldn’t believe it. Last year when Yahoo showcased me in their video blog, I was “beyond moved” by the response. People were so supportive and encouraging, and so many emails I received literally brought tears to my eyes, it pretty much renewed my faith in humanity. I was not only proud, but extremely honoured to have had that experience.

What’s on your gear list?

I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark III, and a 50mm or 85mm f1.2, and when I want to go wide I use a 24-70mm f2.8. I also have a tripod, remote, and am awful lot of wigs – mostly of the Halloween variety.

What’s your favourite photo that you’ve ever taken?

My favourite photo is actually not on flickr or the internet to be honest. A few years ago I was visiting very dear friends of mine in Victoria whose daughter had cancer. She had just been through a round of chemo so she was feeling pretty rough – but she let me take a photo of her holding a cup of tea.  She died about a year later.  Her parents told me that photo meant a great deal to them because it captured her essence, just herself being herself, without any frills.  I consider that the most important photo I’ve taken, and because of that it’s also my favourite photo.

Tell us about your creative process.
When conceptualizing for a photoshoot do you often (or ever) create moodboards or sketches?

While I love the idea of sketching a storyboard before shooting, I’ve never really done it well – perhaps it’s my drawing skills (or lack thereof) – why does that tree look like a duck? I simply try to find a quiet place to slow myself down – and visualize (mentally) what I want to say and how. But I also don’t usually plan too far in advance. While I like a certain amount of planning and visualization, I also think each shoot needs to have an unknown factor, to be discovered (or to fail) in the moment. I find that for me, it makes magic.

Also, on average, how long would you consider the process of conceptualizing, shooting and editing to be?

It really depends on the photo. Some ideas – possibly the best ones – come to me in a flash and then I just go do them. Other ideas I have in my head for a while and then finally find the right day or mood to shoot them. Sometimes I go out with no idea at all, or with a very vague idea and take a few shots and then the concept really starts to take form in post processing. That always interests me because it’s like the photo has a life of its own. No matter what I do the post processing can take anywhere from minutes to several hours depending on its complexity.

What do you hope to say to people with the work you create?

In the first instance I really just hope to say something to myself – to capture a feeling or notion outside of myself. If a photo works for me that way, I then hope it will work for others. So my larger hope would only extend as far as to put something positive or thought provoking into the world – that it might cause someone somewhere to pause, or perhaps see something differently.

Can you please tell us about you and your husbands wedding photography business?

Alex and I started our wedding photography business a bit by accident about two years ago when we shot a friend’s wedding together. Alex had recently left his infant photography business and was looking for the next idea, but I don’t think either one of us considered weddings. But on that day we had a lot of fun shooting together – the photos turned out really well, and it just grew from there. Alex has been into photography since he was a kid but photography wasn’t something we did together. Since then, we’ve both really come to love weddings – it’s the perfect situation for a photographer: somebody creates a beautiful and unique day, including wonderful costumes, backdrops, locations, and we have the privilege to come along and shoot it all!  It also pushes you to excel at every type of photography: macros, photojournalism and portraits ultimately involves far more creativity than I had originally thought.

Also, do you ever find it tough trying to balance your conceptual/fine art photography business with you and your husbands wedding photography business?

I actually find they balance each other out really well! I consider fine art to be passion first, business second.  While I do make money from it, I definitely wouldn’t want the money part to govern the passion. I let it lead me where I’m going next and I’m happy to do that. Meanwhile wedding photography is a business first, but a really enjoyable one to pursue. Being part of one of the best days of people’s lives is a pretty amazing business to be in.

When not creating photography, what do you like to do in your free time?

I definitely love a good netflix-binging night when I can manage it. In the summer I spend a lot of time outside – from hiking to having a beer on the patio. Those things make me happy.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to get a photo?

I think ‘crazy’ goes hand in hand with the creation of fine art photography, although I guess it really depends how you define crazy. I’ve decided going out in costumes not on Halloween is perhaps a little crazy, but taking photos of yourself makes it “art” and therefore not crazy. People seem to agree with me on that, and so far I’ve never been arrested for public strangeness. While my shots look like I’m alone in some isolated country setting – you’d be surprised how many people drive by, wave, honk, or stop to take pictures of me taking pictures of me

This shot was probably the craziest

This land formation near my house is an incredibly popular destination – it’s pretty much always crowded with people. Just imagine an entertained crowd standing just outside the frame enjoying the spectacle.

What are you currently working on? (anything new and exciting coming up?)

This summer I’m very excited to be visiting Paris to shoot a new series. I don’t want to say too much about it right now as the ideas are still forming in my head. Alex and I will also be shooting a Newfoundland wedding this summer – Newfoundland is one of my favourite places in Canada, both for the landscape and the amazing people. I’m also getting ready to launch a new website for my fine art photography which will hopefully be ready to go in a couple of weeks. And last but not least, I’m sure I’m not the only one excited by the signs of a pretty aggressive winter finally coming to an end.

So far, in your journey with photography, what would you consider to be the biggest lesson that you’ve learned?

I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to be patient with the creative process – I believe it really has a flow of its own – a coming and going, inhaling and exhaling, breathing as it were. I’ve learned how important it is to flow with it rather than trying to force it. Sometimes the best thing to do is put the camera down and have faith that it will call you back.

Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?

You know at this point in my life, having experienced so many twists, turns and unexpected events in life, highs, lows, etc., I’ll just say in 5 years I hope to be happy, inspired, and believing in what I’m doing.

Do you have any advice to offer us fellow photographers?

My top advice to myself – do what you love and don’t worry too much about what anyone else is doing. If the photos you’re taking today aren’t as good as you’d like, improve it one baby step at a time.

Interviewed By: Angela Butler

To keep up with Patty Maher and her work you can do so on her Flickr, Facebook Page, and Twitter. Thanks for reading!


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    I did a levitation shots some time ago. I need to start doing some more.