Accuracy in Imperfection

Blurriness, grain, and double exposures used to be a no go in photo albums. Artist Maya Beano leverages them to reconstruct the hazy nature of memories.

What are you looking for when you’re taking a photo?
It’s all about capturing a feeling, a memory or a certain atmosphere, so it’s not necessarily about the reality in front of the lens. I actively create an atmosphere that I like – even if it’s not there.

Maya Beano is an film photographer based in the UK See more of her work on her website: www.mayabeano.com.

Maya Beano is an artist and photographer based in the UK. See more of her work on her website: www.mayabeano.com.

Many photographers consider themselves observers, but your approach seems to involve a lot more planning and construction…
I consider myself more of an artist than a photographer, and I do plan a lot of the pictures: A lot of the work involves double exposures, which tends to make things very dreamy – that’s the way people describe it.

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“I shot this series in Northern Sweden, about 200km north of the Arctic Circle. My friends and I all enjoy snowy landscapes, and so we went out there with our cameras and our hiking gear. A lot of the pictures in this series were shot from an airplane, of sunrises and sunsets in January. It was just wonderful, I had never seen such intensely colored light in the sky. Their winter sunrises and sunsets lasted for hours.”

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Why do you think that is?
If you think of the act of recalling a memory, the images I you have in my your head of the memory aren’t always very clear – at least in my case. It’s more of a mishmash of sights, feelings, sounds and smells. Things overlap quite a bit. That’s what I try to convey in my photos: I rely on long exposures, double exposures or color filters in front of the lens to change the mood.

You’re also deploying a lot of grain and fuzziness.
I don’t really store my film in the fridge like many people do, and it damages it. I reckon it’s cold enough in England to only damage it the right amount! Recently, I got my hand on a lot of expired film and those results are grainier than usual, which I quite like. As long as you can kind of tell what’s going on in the picture, it adds something. So I don’t consider what you’d call mistakes as real mistakes. I consider them a preference. I’m still in an experimental phase.

It’s a fascinating paradox to use something that many would consider broken or accidental to create art. Isn’t it weird that the fragile or damaged nature of film can lets you something that feels more real than reality?
That’s true: If I use a normal digital camera and shoot a very clear picture, it doesn’t give me the right feeling, or doesn’t recreate the atmosphere I want. The very clear images don’t resonate with me as much – whereas the hazy stuff does. It represents a more real image of what I see in my mind.

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Has photography, through digitization, perhaps become too much about the ideal of a “perfectly clear” image?
Yes! I hear this both online and offline. Some say “Your images are so hazy, I can’t tell what’s going on.” Some of them just prefer the clearness of digital. That’s a side-effect of the trend to shoot a perfect picture of something, which is clear and bright, with perfect color reproduction. It doesn’t work for me, I find those pictures a little devoid of feeling. At the end of the day, it’s just a preference.

How do you create image series, if your memories are so muddled?
If I have a particularly powerful memory of something, or a strong emotional reaction to something, it will result in a series of photos. These are often inspired by personal experiences. I grew up in Jordan, in the Middle East, and every spring we would have these giant sandstorms that would fill the sky with these rosy clouds. A while ago, I went to Northern Ireland with my best friend and their sky, when the sun was setting, looked exactly like that. The result is the series “Rose Gold”.

You also took pictures in Iceland, which is a pretty surreal place as it is.
It was easier than usual to add a touch of surrealism to the photos I took in Iceland because the place is so surreal already. The problem was that it was so cold that I had to use warm pouches in my camera bags so that the cameras wouldn’t freeze and stop working. I had a similar experience in the north of Sweden last January.

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Your pictures suggest that there’s another pane to reality that we may be missing. Are we looking at the world in a too factual way?
Sometimes, yes. I find people’s different perceptions of the world incredibly interesting. The simplest example: When I go on a trip and I talk about what I found most interesting, my account of it is usually very different from that of my friends, just as each one of theirs is different. Everyone has a very unique way of seeing the world and I am just trying to document my own personal journeys of the heart and the mind. It’s all a bit hazy in there.