Halloween Special Feature: Exclusive Interview With Photographer Of The Month - Maria Mantis.

by - 11:19:00

OTSM: Hi Maria, Please fully tell us about yourself and your personal background.
MM: Hi! Thanks for having me. I am Maria, a self-taught photographer from Southern Germany and I've been a professional photographer since 2014. Before that, I studied marketing and linguistics but wasn't really happy with this choice of profession. So I chose to put all my eggs in one basket and became a self-employed photographer- I have not looked back ever since.
OTSM: If I am not mistaken, You hold a degree in Marketing which is so amazing, How and when did you discover you had a passion for photography?
MM: That was a long time before studying marketing. I think it was in my early teenage years when I found out that photography was a quicker way to depict my feelings than drawing (which I did a lot of back then). I am very impatient for results, so photography was the perfect way to get quick results.
OTSM: In your own words please describe your style as a photographer?
MM: I would say it is a wild mixture of fine art, dark art, fantasy, and classic portrait photography. I'm interested in so many different kinds of photography, that's why it's hard for me to limit myself to just one style.
OTSM: Do you remember your first experience with the Camera?
MM: I guess that was when I found the analog SLR of my dad in a drawer when I was a child. I had been playing a lot with different technical devices we had at home back then. E.g. I loved to press all the buttons on my parent's stereo or VCR and imagined them to be parts of a space shuttle. That's where the camera with its buttons caught my attention as well and I started experimenting with it.
OTSM: Lol! that experience of playing around with the buttons on the stereo or VCR I did that too, I was beginning to wonder if I was the only alien out there, so glad to hear you had the same experience. So tell us, How big a role does photography play in your life?
MM: Photography is my profession, so it's an everyday companion. Besides that, it has been a cure for me when times were quite dark, as it helped me to express my feelings better than anything else I tried before (and I tried a lot).
OTSM: Yes it's important for us to find that channel to be able to release our inner energy or to express that which we feel and hold in, sometimes a trip to the doctor won't even solve anything so we must always have that channel to be able to express ourselves deeply or have that source of inspiration that helps us stay focused on our goal. Which brings me to my next question- Which photographers influenced you, and how did they influence your thinking, photographing, and career path?
MM: I know, it sounds kind of boring, but my main influence in photographing was the legendary Helmut Newton since the early 90s. I don't know if anyone remembers it, but I was a huge fan of the "MAX" lifestyle magazine back then. They always had great photo series in every issue and I used to tear the sheets out and put them on my walls. Helmut Newton was one of the photographers whose photos were published regularly in MAX and I quickly fell in love with his avant-garde black/white photographs of strong but also fragile women. I know, there are some people today that blame late Helmut for being a misogynist, but to me, no matter in what way he staged his female models, they always looked powerful and confident to me. And that's probably the main influence for my own photography: depicting female power with all its aspects.
OTSM: These words by you melted my soul because it shows you are not one to follow the rules and the “Norm” - "I refuse the uniform style and the common thread, I much prefer to devote myself to human whims, emotions and characteristics and build everything around them, or pay homage to impose buildings and natural scenarios by staging people in them”, What advice would you offer to other aspiring photographers who wish to set their own style and not be like everyone else, because I believe it’s always better to be authentic to your own personal style.
MM: I think my main advice would be to always keep your eyes wide open for inspiration wherever you may be. Inspiration lies in the details. For example, I love to take detailed pictures of old paintings in museums, when a very small but yet important detail catches my eye. Whether it's the position of hands in a portrait, the light in the eyes, or props that were used to fill an arranged ensemble. Don't try to copy a photo you like, but try to find the essence of it (e.g. lighting) and combine it with other details you like from other sources. Create your own recipes and maybe you'll one day find your very own main ingredient that makes your pictures unique and recognizable.
OTSM: How do you make sure you get the best out of people when shooting portraits, especially if they are not professional models?
MM: As I do many more client shoots than shoots with professional models, it's my everyday task to get the best out of inexperienced people. I think that probably starts way before having them in front of my camera, with communicating with them. I always try my best to answer all their question and take away all insecurities. When it comes to shooting them, I always offer everyone equal opportunity for me to be their guide through the whole photoshoot by telling them exactly what I want, and even posing in front of them, when describing my ideas verbally is not enough. Sometimes this leads to funny situations, that loosen up the mood and help people to relax and be more genuine in front of my cam.
OTSM: What Would You Consider the Most Important Components of Your Style? And Do You Feel You Have A Signature Style?
MM: I think my most important component is having a certain dark twist and melancholy that comes through in many of my pictures, even though I don't always intend to bring that in, that is the most obvious part that comes through and as many people emphasize that when looking at my photographs they see that dark twist come through, so I guess that's my signature style.
OTSM: Has Instagram changed the way you photograph? Has it changed what you share, or how you share your work?
MM: Yes it did for quite a while. I tried to keep the 3 pics of one series in a row, which forced me to always edit three pics of one shoot (even though I often only really liked only one or two). But I stopped doing that and have continued to post pics without a certain order. 
OTSM: What sort of message do you want to convey with your work?
MM: That's a tough one....maybe don't shut yourself off from the beauty of darkness or melancholy. I have met a lot of people, who automatically think that I must be living a life in agony and grief because of some of my darker and sometimes even slightly bizarre pictures. My credo in life is: how can one realize light when you have never stared into the dark depths of your soul. Well, and as I preferred the dark princess Lili version in the "Legend" in my childhood to the light and fairylike one, I guess a certain kind of affinity for dark themes has always been there with me :D
OTSM: I absolutely agree with you, one of my favorite quotes I tell people is " Out of darkness comes light and Out of Light -Darkness", people forget that to see the stars shine at night you need the sky to be "Dark", I love your photography, do not change it for anything or anyone and I wish many photographers will always stay true to their passion like you do, which brings me to my next question - What advice would you give to aspiring photographers out there?
MM: Be inspired, but don't copy blatantly. It is hard to be innovative, as almost everything has been photographed before. But you can always create something new by mixing different styles and elements and making it your own style.
OTSM: Such a brilliant response. If you could change one thing about the photography industry, what would it be? What would you improve?
MM: I would love to see less envy between photographers and more cooperation. You can learn a lot by creating something new with colleagues, whether it's the way they work creatively or how they manage their business.
OTSM: Yes that's very true, I always say - Collaboration Over Competition. People need to learn to work together and help each other grow rather than be petty and jealous of each other. Maria what would you say is the most challenging part of being a fine art photographer
MM: Maybe being taken seriously by people who only know the typical small-town photographers, that usually only take wedding or family pics. I don't know how many times I had to explain myself to people telling them that I am able to pay my bills myself through my work and I don't have to ask my husband to do so. But that's a stereotype many female freelancers from the creative scene see themselves confronted with.
OTSM: What are some of the biggest hurdles you have been faced with as a photographer and how did you overcome them?
MM: In addition to my previous answer, another hurdle is definitely not being taken seriously as a female artist. Especially in a scene full of male colleagues.
OTSM: What was the first-ever photography gear you used when it comes to photoshoots and What is your current favorite photography gear, what do you always have in your photography Bag/Kit?
MM: Besides the old analog SLR of my dad, the first-ever photography gear was my Canon EOS500 with kit lenses and construction lights as indoor lighting. My current favorite gears is my Canon 85mm f1.2 and my everyday studio lens 24-105 f4.0
OTSM: What has been the highlight of your career as a photographer?
MM: My everyday highlight is the fact that people really like to see many of my photos as art and love to hang them on their walls. I could have never imagined that there are people out there that would pay thousands for a limited print of one of my pictures. That's probably really the biggest highlight in my career as a photographer till date.
OTSM: This is a question I always love to ask my Queens during interviews what does the word “Women Empowerment “mean to you? 
MM: As I am a woman in a male-dominated scene, "Women Empowerment" means so much to me on so many different levels. Beginning with the way some male black sheep treat female models or not being taken seriously by male colleagues, especially when it comes to technical subjects. I am happy to see that more and more girls/women are rocking the photography scene and show how successfully they start from taking photos as a hobby to making it a profession. I totally appreciate the fact, that there are more and more female photographers who have started giving workshops and masterclasses to teach others about their knowledge and break old conventions by doing so. 
OTSM: Yass! I couldn't agree more. In my opinion, you have the potential to be a key, influential female photographer in the industry. Do you think that female photographer are fairly represented? There are a lot of discussions online about women not having equal opportunities to men in photography, what are your opinions on the subject?
MM: Oh, thank you for the compliment :) And yes, as I mentioned before, photography to me is still a male-dominated industry. But I think, digital photography and the possibility to edit pictures on your computer without having to develop a film complexly in a darkroom made it easier and less advanced to get in touch with it for everyone - especially for many creative women, for who the creative process of editing is just as important, as photographing itself. And to be honest, I couldn't imagine the fine art and fantasy photography scene without the wonderful realms hundreds of female photographers create with their mindblowing photographs. To me, it's a fastly growing scene, as people seem to love to escape everyday life more and more frequently. And what is more suitable to stimulate one's fantasy and imagination quickly than visuals, like photographs or films.
OTSM: When it comes to post-production what tools do you use, and what would you recommend to upcoming photographers?
MM: I use lightroom for making selections and cataloging, then I use photoshop for the editing. And that's what I would recommend to every upcoming photographer since Adobe often offers discounts that almost everyone can afford.
OTSM: What are your latest and upcoming projects?
MM: My most recent big project was a music video we took of a darkwave band. We had a lot of fun and I could imagine doing something like that more often in the future. One of my upcoming projects is a series of photographs I took together with an illustrator " Marian Kretschmer". We are planning to have some exhibitions with them.
OTSM: Cool! What was the most surreal moment you ever experienced during a photography shoot?
MM: I think the most surreal moments I had happened during our photography trip to Iceland in Sep 2020. We hardly met anyone during our shoots and had the most spectacular sites completely to ourselves due to covid restrictions. This was solitude in the next level.
OTSM: What are you doing when you are not working?
MM: I love watching movies, visiting new places, and going out into nature. Basically doing anything and everything that would bring me new inspiration for further projects.
OTSM: What or where do you draw your inspirations from, because I am a huge believer in the saying that “there is inspiration all around us” not many can see it, but it’s there because everything we can imagine is real.
MM: As I said earlier inspiration lies in the details. For me, the biggest sources of inspiration are paintings, films, nature, and music.
OTSM: Any last words you’d like to add?
MM: Always keep your eyes open when it comes to seeing the beauty in details and never stop dwelling upon it. Never stop believing in the beauty of your dreams.
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