I ended up at a house party by pure chance back around March or so. In that tiny crowded apartment, I was obsessed with the photo prints hung up right above the couch - photographs that happened to be taken by the Maya. A couple weeks later we met in a doughnut shop on 23rd street, and now, about three months later, this interview has finally made its way onto Pudge. Keep reading to find out about black&white street photography, dreams of being a mermaid, and memories of mountain climbing when drunk.
where are you from?
I grew up in Westchester, but I’ve been travelling back and forth from Israel for most of my life, and I identify myself more Israeli than American.
how did you end up in NYC?
Well, growing up, I always dreamed of living in New York. It was my utmost fantasy. I went to UMass Amherst for a little bit, and I was studying Political Science&Communications, but I felt I needed to be here, and, well, I came here.
Honestly, SVA had the easiest application. I got lazy halfway through, and they accepted me, but also I was talking to the photo director of Glamour about two years ago, and she told me that I should go to SVA. At the time, I really wanted to work for Glamour, and I was like, “okay, you said SVA, SVA it is then.” I love it, and I’m, so happy I chose it.
is it something you want to do in the long term, work for a fashion magazine?
I think so. Right now it’s what I enjoy most. I thought about being an art therapist, but taking pictures makes me happy.
when did you start getting into photography?
Um, I got into it in my freshman year of high school, and then in my sophomore year, I took a darkroom class, and I really got into film. Up until maybe two months ago, I was only shooting film. And then for school, I couldn’t keep up with the cost of film, so I switched to digital. I definitely prefer shooting film though.
It’s interesting - your black&whites are usually more candid, whereas your colour shots tend to be more posed.
I guess it’s the pre-notion that I have towards black&white and film. I feel that black&white is meant to be more candid. I’m not sure why that is, I guess it comes from looking at old photographers - that’s kind of the course of photography. I feel that street photography belongs in black&white. It doesn’t always, and there’s beautiful work in colour, but…
I saw just the other day that you started experimenting with double exposure. How do you like it, how is it going so far?
With the flowers? I have this new series in mind where it’s portraits with an overlay of their favourite things, their favourite places, stuff like that. So I did a series with the projector, images from when she was a child, from when I was a child - I want to do something like that, with memories and childhood. Not in a dark and heavy sense though, make it still light and enjoyable.
have you always thought of photography as sort of a life path?
When I was younger, yes. I was so set on doing this. I would argue with my mom, asking her to give me more allowance because I wanted to develop more film. And she would be like, “Maya, this is stupid, no.” “I want to be a photographer, you just wait and see when I grow up!” I love people, and I want to work with people, but I want photography to always be a part of my life.
what inspires you?
Sitting in class. Everyone has such amazing work, I am always convinced I need to do better. We are in this class, and a few weeks back, I did not take it seriously at all. I did a project on a pizza box, and it was such shit. It was just bad, a mixed media, things cut up the night before, and everyone worked so hard on theirs. People came in with the most amazing stuff. And every week since then, I’ve been pushing myself. It sounds cheesy, but everyone around me inspires me. You see everybody else’s amazing work, you want to be better.
do you find that, being in a class with other photographers, you influence one another in your work?
Oh, for sure. I used to hate working in a studio. It overwhelmed me, and scared me a bit, and I liked to shoot environmental portraits, stuff like that. So many people in my class do just studio, I felt that I had to do just studio. For a while, I felt that it was what I should be doing, and I was trying to conform, but now that I’ve done that, and I’m more comfortable in the studio, I’ve realized that my work doesn’t need to be like everybody else’s, that’s kind of the whole point, that’s how I got here.
outside of photography, what are you interested in?
I love fashion. I have a bit of a shopping problem. I love animals a lot. I want to start working in an animal shelter, and I am in an everyday argument with my roommate over when we should get a dog. She wants a tiny little thing, and I like bear dogs, but my apartment’s so small, I don’t think a big dog is going to happen.
you’ve got a lot of people coming to your apartment for parties and such. have there ever been any weird things that happened?
How appropriate. Besides the continuous breaking of glasses… The door broke, the window broke, it fell on somebody once. One night, a lot of people were over, and I had no idea who they were. I’m pretty sure my friend picked these guys off the street, because she didn’t know them, and she brought them. In total, they all invited their friends, and it was like thirty strangers that I had never met before. And then my friend ended up sleeping with like, four of them that night. And I was in a serious relationship at the time, just sat there like, “So, who wants to get out of my house? No? No one’s going to listen to me? Okay.”
did they leave eventually?
They left the next morning. I ended up locking myself in my room. “You deal with this, you brought them, you figure it out, I’m going to sleep.” I woke up, I went outside, and there were a bunch of naked older men. There was this forty-year old guy covered in tattoos, laid in my couch. But the thing is, I’m not a very convincing person when I get mad. And I was like, “Who are you? Out, now.” But he thought I was joking, and he replied with, “Ha ha, who are you?” He looked at me like it was his place, and I had walked in on him and his freedom to be naked on my couch.
what has been the most surreal moment of your life?
Honestly, one of my favourite moments was when I was in Israel, and me and my friends were hiking in Negev, and we were on the top of some huge mountain. We had to rock climb there, and we were piss drunk. We were screaming, we were so happy, and life couldn’t get better than this. Warm weather, you’re with your best friend, and an amazing view.
how do you describe your photography to people who have never seen your work?
I take photos of my friends. I want to photograph people being themselves, and that’s when I feel they are at their most beautiful. They’re posed to an extent, yes, but I don’t want them to be too much like, “oh, I am a model”. Them being them. Candid, but still a little posed, that type of thing. Life, too. Right now I’m doing a project about depression, and about dealing with animosity and anger.
what do you think is the best platform to showcase your work?
Tumblr and Flickr. When I was younger, I did a lot of zines, and I had a posting, a feature on the Urban Outfitters blog when I was sixteen, and that got me a lot of views.
have you ever felt that you were not taken seriously because of what you do?
I feel like a lot of people don’t take me seriously when they ask me what I do, and I say that I am a photographer. “Ha, yeah, okay.” There are many different levels of being a photographer, many types of work you can do, and it’s not all about the commercial aspect of it. At this stage of my life, it’s more important for me that people see my work than for me to get paid.
when you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Probably a mermaid. I still think it’s a plausible option. I used to do a lot of musical theater, and then I started smoking cigarettes, so that all went to hell.
self-portraiture for you, is it also a way to understand yourself, your own character? Kind of a journey into not just photography, but into finding out more about your own person?
Yeah. A lot more thought goes into it than for anything else. I’ve definitely sat there and thought about what it is that I am trying to say, and you have to look upon yourself to do that. And also how is it that you want to portray yourself, too. I got into an argument with my mom when I took nude photos of myself. They’re artistic, but it’s my mom, so she just went, “no no no, what are you doing, no!” And I told her that if I post photos of other girls, why is it not okay for me to post photographs of myself, especially if I’m feeling comfortable to do so? “But Maya, how do you want people to perceive you?” It’s a lot more of a serious idea when you’re posing for yourself than for other people. When you’re posing for other people, it is their art, and you’re kind of just standing there, they’re shaping you. But then when you’re shaping yourself, it’s a whole other ballgame.
what do you think is the strongest point in your work?
I would say how much the models, the people I am photographing enjoy the process. I don’t know if that’s actually true, that might be a ton of bullshit. But I think they do, and I love that.