Mariana Pires on Creating Her Own Rhythm through Film Photography


Filmmaker and photographer Mariana Pires knows more than a thing or two about finding rhythm in one’s creative work. An visual artist whose work mostly revolves around fashion, music, and culture — having photographed campaigns for Nike, Google, and Uggs, collaborated with publications such as Bricks Magazine, Refinery29, and Wonderland Magazine, and also worked with musicians such as Celeste, GABRIELS, Flo, among several among others — she’s intentional about creating work that is real and meaningful no matter the scale. Through photography, she moves to the rhythm of the spaces she finds herself in and those that she strongly believes in and advocates for; telling stories that subvert what the general mainstream deems as “beautiful” (in every sense of the word) by shifting her gaze and lens.

Passionate about the evolution of the photography community, Mariana also shares what’s on the horizon in terms of her visual practice for 2024, “I’m currently working on a body of work that revolves around black women, in particular plus size. We are seeing a decrease in body diversity in the mainstream media that I believe does not reflect the world.” Read our interview with her as she speaks on gazes, analogue forms, and the moving power of music — all by means of expression through filmmaking and photography.

Credits: Mariana Pires

Hi Mariana! Welcome to Lomography Magazine! Can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Hi! I am a photographer and filmmaker originally from Lisbon but have been based out of London for the past seven years. I came to London to study film for university and ended up staying to try out this creative path of mine.

How are things so far? What has your curiosity driven you to do in relation to film photography?

It’s been alright. Things don't move exactly as you’d want them to, but I think recently what has occupied my mind the most is learning how to navigate through a system that isn't necessarily built for women of color. All of that has occupied most of my current conversations with friends and I’ve just been feeling driven to understand how to be perceived as a person first and then for the vessel that I was born into.

And in film photography recently, I’ve been trying to learn as much as possible how to light read or simply light for darker skin tones in a way that my photos don’t get underexposed, so I think all of it revolves around closing in these gaps that I think the photography community is failing at.

Credits: Mariana Pires

What is it like living in London? What is the creative and film photography scene like for you?

London is something else that’s for sure. I love it here and I hate it here under the same breath. The creative industries — just like anywhere else in Europe — are quite dominated by white European middle to upper-class people which doesn't give much space for women of color or just people from marginalized working-class communities to grow and to be able to access the same opportunities. It’s hard work every day and it's ever so consuming to be living under an oppressive state dictated by the “dominant” culture/gaze. Photography is such a medium that allows us to see the disparity that occurs in the art sector. Because of this, there are not a lot of women of color who are able to be successful in their medium of choice.

Do you have favorite neighborhoods you like to revisit for the different seasons and take film photographs?

I do photograph a lot in my neighborhood in Hackney. Out of convenience sometimes but mainly because I just love to see my world reflecting back at me through my work. I get to look at roads, parks, walls, trees, bushes, and benches around me and find ways of incorporating them into my work. In turn, when I go past those same locations at a later date, I get to have an extra special visually interesting memory of them.

How long have you been incorporating analogue film into your photography practice?

I’ve been professionally shooting film for five years. On one of my first photo gigs I had here in London I took one of my point-and-shoots to see if it was manageable and eventually just started enjoying film over digital. Also at the time I had the advantage that I could develop film for free at my university and film rolls were so inexpensive back then, it all allowed me to learn much faster.

Credits: Mariana Pires

What film cameras do you currently own? When did you start growing your collection?

I currently have three film cameras that I own, a Canon EOS-3, Olympus Mju II, and another Olympus that I hold on to for more sentimental reasons (it’s the same model of camera my mom had when I was growing up).

One of my previous cameras, a Canon EOS-10 that was my trusty companion for many years, now belongs to one of my best friends who moved back home to Mumbai, how amazing is that!

My favorite (and the one I work with the most!) is the Canon EOS-3. It’s basically like owning a film Canon 5D.

One of the things I look for in a film camera is the ease of use and high-quality negatives. With the Canon EOS-3 being one of the last few models Canon made before switching to digital, there are a lot of perks to it: (1) you can use the same lenses as you use on any recent Canon camera which means the quality of the glass is the same as present day, and (2) because it's such a recent camera, there’s a lot less things that can go wrong with it.

When did you first learn about Lomography?

I remember maybe 10 years ago, Lomography opened a shop in downtown Lisbon. I didn’t have a lot of money growing up but I remember going in there with one of my best friends at the time and helping her pick a camera out and subsequently trying to learn alongside her how to use the Diana F+. Back then I used to just walk in by myself some days and chat with the team and dream up ways I could perhaps use film. I never purchased anything there and unfortunately the shop closed down after a while.

Credits: Mariana Pires

Music has solidified its presence in your film photography work – you've done in-studio shoots and captured live performances photos. Technically speaking, how do you prepare for these kinds of photoshoots? And, artistically speaking, what do you look to capture in a performance? What moments draw you in?

Listening to the artist’s music helps me to get in the mood and understand exactly who they might be as people. I’m very blessed to have a good working relationship with musicians, I love to first chat with them to see what they expect out of the work and see if they have any references they like, as well as just regular conversations. It’s really helpful to fill the space up with an honest dialogue that connects us as people. Music is a very healing part of my day-to-day life so I really appreciate their work and I think it’s one of the greatest gifts we have of mankind.

When I’m photographing gigs I try to get in the rhythm of the show. If I can, I come during the soundcheck just to sense the vibe of the show, see the room, and find my angles on where I should go or focus on for each particular song. Once I’m working I usually start from backstage, follow them till they are on stage get a couple of songs from there, then into the pit, and then I go in for more general shots from the crowd and come back down to the pit to get whatever I think I might have missed.

Credits: Mariana Pires

In the studio, I find the work to be easier. I get to talk to the artists in between recordings and become a more active participant in the space, photographing more honest moments. In both cases, I think it's all about how I perceive the moment. I try to always work with artists that I am in awe of and that I love and respect as people as that makes my job way easier and less rational.

Technically speaking, photographing gigs on film is one of the hardest things ever. If you’re shooting manual the light is never constant. I think I get a thrill out of the difficulty. If I’m going to shoot in color, I go for an 800 speed and push it to 1600, then meter blindly. Or sometimes I try for a 3200 B&W as it’s such a strong and beautiful choice. I then try to remember the settings I was using for soundcheck and go with those. For studio photos on film, I’m also shooting at 800 up. My approach is that as soon as I get in [the studio], I’m looking for any possible light source I can manipulate to give me a more dramatic energy.

For International Women’s Day in 2021, you worked on a remote photo shoot for an article with Refinery29 on the women who inspire you and whose works are making waves in their respective fields. You also shared that the entire shoot was done remotely and all shot on 35 mm film. Can you tell us more about this experience and what it was like bringing it to life?

It was an amazing project! I’ve always dreamt of working with Refinery29 so this was just the sweetest opportunity to start our collaborations that still go on to this day.

We initially meant to shoot in the studio but had to pivot to a remote shoot due to the Covid restrictions and budget feasibility at the time. I wanted to shoot it on film regardless so I just made it work.

I started by photographing (on digital) each person via FaceTime. And then one evening when that part of the project was done and I had selected my favorites from each one of the shoots, I went over to one of my friend’s home, projected the photos on a wall as big as possible, and photographed them again one by one with my film camera. (Wanted to note and give context that I was given a say in the casting of the project so everyone included was a friend and it felt like a nice way to recognize their efforts!)

Credits: Mariana Pires

Overall, I had such a great time and it was quite fun to have everyone be so involved: from the composition of the photos to the logistics and rudimentary techniques on how to be creative while setting up their phone devices (angles and all!)

What’s your favorite thing about film photography? What about it excites you?

I’ve always loved the way film looks and I think it functions a lot better with the way my brain works. I love leaving it to faith, I think it's a very magical alchemy that happens every time. I love not knowing for a while, but also being so present, then feeling it in my body when I look through that viewfinder and sense that the photo I was waiting on has arrived. I also love that no one else can see it on the day but me. It feels like a special contract with God and the forces of creation and the angels that work at the lab to bring it to life.

Last year I learned how to handprint so that’s something I am excited to add to my tool kit. I’ve already learned so much over the few times I was able to do it. The practice brings such a different perspective to one’s work; starting with the first contact you have with it (since removing the roll from your film camera) and then seeing it in real life materialized into a contact sheet. It makes the photo selection process so much more real-life and intuitive.

Color and texture are very distinct and prominent in your work. Personally, I see a very matte-like finish (which I love) and wanted to ask if this is something you heavily work on during your post-processing stages or does this mostly come from how you light the scene along with the film stocks you choose to use?

I think a lot of factors come into play, the film stock and camera included. I think the way my chosen lab develops and scans the photos is also very crucial. Furthermore, once you’ve established a more standardized version of work with the same camera, the same film stock used, and the same development and scanning, you get to play a lot more.

A couple of years ago, I made the switch to Chan Photographic and haven’t looked back since. They are a family-owned business and are such incredible people.

Credits: Mariana Pires

What’s the most surprising photograph you’ve taken so far? What’s the story behind it?

I have a couple in the vault I would love to show but I can’t yet!

But with that said, I think this photo of Celeste is one of my favorites — which is something that I think I share with a lot of people. I had already worked with her a bit but had never seen a full show with an audience and it was so good, so I was just in awe of my friend. It was the first time I went on tour, the first show of her UK leg, and we were playing around after the show looking for a moment to capture, and then this very beautiful moment of stillness just came up and I believe that it represents a lot of what I see in her when she is in her full power. There’s this sense of inner protection, vulnerability, and overall beauty that transpires.

She is a great friend and someone that I respect a lot. I love the fact that the photo feels monumental as it marks the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Credits: Mariana Pires

With a body of work that highlights women in every way and form, can you share who are the women and work created by them that have been vital to your journey thus far as a visual artist and storyteller?

My mother and grandmother are my favorite women, they’ve influenced me a lot. My grandmother recently passed away, just under two months ago, and this time has just been a really big moment of reflection on her life. I’ve been taking the time to process all of the grief and love to hopefully create something cathartic out of it.

In terms of other women, I get a lot of my inspiration from film. I love filmmakers like Agnès Varda and Claire Denis, there’s beauty in finding the sweet spot between fiction and reality and they both know how to build something that is super elaborate and that reflects back to the world, through blurred lines.

Credits: Mariana Pires

I also really love researching music from other decades and how they express themselves through their practice. I tend to look for black women as much as possible and other women of color to see ways in which we connect.

I’m also very blessed to know incredible photographers like Olivia Lifungula and Serena Brown who are great sources of inspiration.

I think ideas and images come to me as they do, my mind is quite full the majority of the time, it’s chatty up there so I try to use that guidance.

Do you have a motto or philosophy when it comes to photography?

Not really, but I do have something that I always think about that came to me after my father’s passing: There’s only actions and consequences.

That’s worked as a form of guidance, it gives me the power to know that I am capable of changing and it gives me detachment to accept people and situations as they come.

Credits: Mariana Pires

Anything you’d like to share with the Lomography community?

I just want to say that as a community, we should strive to include as many voices as possible. By that, I mean that we need to give agency to the people and not explore their lives for “aesthetics”, especially if you’re coming from a dominant culture.

Let’s not close our eyes to the world, we have to make it more democratic. If there’s a child that you can teach or if there’s a particular community that you see that doesn’t have the resources to tell their stories in ways that can empower them, bring them the gift. The gift of photography, art, and creativity. This is the only way of moving forward — by empowering people to share their own views of the world. You never know how much that could change someone’s life and how that trickles down to their community. This is a healing practice that must be shared.

Thank you to Mariana for sharing her film photography journey with us at Lomography! View more of her work on her Instagram and website

written by macasaett on 2024-05-22 #people #fashion #lisbon #london #35-mm #editorial

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One Comment

  1. roaringtree
    roaringtree ·

    Great! Your concluding paragraph to share with the Lomography community is very powerful, thank you!

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