TheMG: To me, your images seem beautiful and disturbing at the same time. Can you talk about some of the feelings being represented in them? Are there any specific struggles you want to address?
María Alejandra: I created this series around a time of distress and confusion. I had finally settled in the city after a long immigration process, yet I still felt sort of lost. I was dealing with issues like anxiety, loneliness, insomnia, heartbreak... I wanted this project in particular, as well as my work in general, to be a personal journey. I wanted to find beauty in the pain, and beauty within myself. I am very open about my battle with depression, and I use my art as a coping mechanism. When I was working on the Acuarela series I was trying to find myself and recover the sanity and self confidence I had lost over time. Looking back, it was a very turbulent, dark time in my life full of ups and downs, and I hadn't really recovered, so the intensity of the imagery comes from that sort of stormy mind state I was in.
TheMG: What is it that you are trying to accomplish by making and showing these images?
MA: It's tough to describe what I wanted to accomplish by showing them. The whole project became a process of self discovery, but was also a way to deal with my personal struggles. My main goal while I was working on it was to find something beautiful at a time where I honestly hated myself. I was trying so hard to get out of the depression I was in on my own, without any help, and this was the result. I had a need to love myself and to give a face and a color to the particular problem I was having, it felt as if I needed to see it. By showing it I want to show that nobody is alone in their struggle, and that there's a complexity to depression. It's not always black or white, it's more like a rollercoaster.
TheMG: Can you tell us more about your creative process? Where do you start and how do you know when to stop?
MA: It all starts with emotional distress, My personal work is always driven by emotion. Then I grab pen and paper and start throwing ideas on my notebook of emotions I want to explore. In the case of the Acuarela project I started with a list and gave it different colors. I always know exactly what the image is going to look like when I start shooting. I usually have a few posing ideas, and more often than not I'm going through something emotional that shows through in my body language. I start experimenting with long exposures, different poses, anything that I feel conveys the feeling I'm going for. Sometimes something will happen during the shoot and it'll become an entirely different image that I never thought of, and it's all fueled by emotion. I sit down with the image and after doing the basic tweaks I start with a color palette that fits the feeling, and it's in the post production process where most of the spontaneity happens. In general I stop when I feel like I went overboard and it's taking away from the essence of the image and it's becoming more about the technique. I usually step back when the image makes me feel a certain way, not just "oh this looks nice."
TheMG: When you first were featured by Middle Gray, you where also working with self portraiture and digital manipulation. Has this always been your medium of choice? Why digital manipulation?
MA: Digital manipulation was something I found during my photography school years, when I realized I was actually skilled and wanted to learn more and more. Actually, self portraiture was also something I sort of stumbled upon while working on school assignments. I was on my own in a different country, away from everything I knew, and I wanted to find who I was, see myself in this new environment. Self portraiture is most definitely my main way of expressing myself, because my art comes from emotion. Digital manipulation, however, isn't necessarily my only medium, but it's the one that allows me to unleash my creativity in a way that's more manageable and accessible for me. I love creating images from scratch, especially impactful, colorful images. I also feel like it has to do with how I'm feeling. I recently went through a very difficult personal situation, and my need wasn't to do something colorful and beautiful, it was more to grab my camera and do something raw and dark. It was like I needed immediate release, the amount of pain I was in was too much and I didn't connect with my visually appealing side. Now that I am on my way to recovery I have that rush to create again and continue to explore my journey, and digital manipulation gives me the opportunity to express every single thing that's in my head. It's a mess in there.
Maria Alejandra Mata was born in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1987. She went to Universidad Católica Andrés Bello and majored in Visual Arts. She started shooting concerts in her hometown, then moved to Boston in 2012 to continue her studies at New England School of Photography. She’s currently based in Boston.