September 6, 2021
Photography by Maria Ricossa
Interview by Melanie Meggs
The sun is shining and the sand is warm beneath our toes. We feel a sense of calm washing over us, a feeling of respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. For Maria Ricossa, the beach brings something more: a chance to capture life’s moments through her camera lens.
A professional actor for over thirty years, Maria has been able to capture the nuances and complexities of human behavior in her craft. Her work as a street photographer, however, allows her to delve even further into the small moments of life and uncover the stories beneath the surface.
At the beach, time seems to stand still. For Maria, this is more than just a place of relaxation. It is a blank canvas onto which people can project themselves. She sees an entire world of possibility unfold in front of her. In the moments that follow, Maria captures a sketch of character, a hint of story and the joy of feeling that can’t be denied.
The beach provides endless opportunities for Maria to uncover the mysteries of life. Her photographs are more than just snapshots—they are glimpses into the lives of those who seek respite by the water. With each click of her shutter, we are invited to join Maria on her journey as she discovers and reinterprets the scenes before her.
“I am by the water at some point every day with my camera. I’ve been working on this series for about five years and have seen the evolution of the beach before and after covid-19. During lockdown people from all over the city flocked to the shore in huge numbers coming to escape the isolation and reimagine their lives.”
IN CONVERSATION WITH MARIA RICOSSA
THE PICTORIAL LIST: Maria please tell us about yourself. How did you become interested in photography?
MARIA RICOSSA: I currently live in Toronto but grew up outside of Detroit. I am a first generation Italian American and my father loved cameras and taking photos of our family. This was in the 60’s and on Saturday nights he would set up the slide projector in the living room, turn the lights off and we would watch the photographs he had taken during that week. I remember the feeling of awe with each new photo. How did my dad capture that moment without me knowing? Seeing myself and my family in candid, unposed moments was a revelation. Is that what we looked like when we didn’t know someone was watching?
I got a brownie camera when I was 11 or 12 and I was hooked.
TPL: What does street photography mean to you? Describe your style. Working as a professional actor, does this have a big influence over your photography? Where or how do you find inspiration?
MR: I love the improvisatory nature of street photography. Since I can’t control what I see I have to be present and respond in the moment. It’s similar to working as an actor in that I have to be alive to my scene partner and respond freely and creatively without attempting to control what happens next. I love looking for a dramatic moment in the streets where I can imagine a before and after. I’m drawn to the messiness and unpredictability of people living their lives and the private in public moments after which everything changes.
TPL: Talk to us about your series "Shore Stories". When did the project and the idea for it begin? Is it an ongoing series? What is it about the beach that makes you keep returning to photograph? What do you want the viewer to experience when they look at this series?
MR: I live in The Beaches, a small beachside town in Toronto. I am by the water at some point every day with my camera. I’ve been working on this series for about five years and have seen the evolution of the beach before and after COVID-19. During lockdown people from all over the city flocked to the shore in huge numbers coming to escape the isolation and reimagine their lives.
Time stops and life plays out in unexpected ways at the beach. A teenage girl unable to celebrate her prom with friends comes to the beach for a photo shoot, two men move to embrace on the first day the beach opens after lockdown, a random gathering of disconnected characters play out what seems like a devised theatre of connection. I relish paying close attention to these transient moments, imagining the moment before and the moment after to help me find the story. It’s a story I can create and tell myself. Ideally I would like the viewers to find their own stories in these photographs.
TPL: What have been some of your favourite memories or moments in your photography journey? What have you personally gained from your experiences?
MR: Anytime I’m able to completely give over to the rhythm of the streets and be completely present is a thrilling time. I’ve learned that if I go out with an open mind without any expectations I’m surprised and delighted by the offerings right in front of me. I don’t like going out with a fixed idea of what I want to shoot. That doesn’t work for me. I’m able to see more if I let go of any expectations.
TPL: When you are out shooting - how much of it is instinctual versus planned?
MR: I take my camera most of the time when I go out. This just increases the chance of me getting lucky! I may not find anything but I try to go out with a beginner’s mind. I don’t plan. Sometimes I just shoot from the hip and see what happens and sometimes I will find a scene and work it for a while.
Time stops and life plays out in unexpected ways at the beach.
TPL: Do you have any favourite artists or photographers you would like to share with us, and the reason for their significance?
MR: Saul Leiter, Helen Levitt, Joel Meyerowitz, Berenice Abbott, Alex Webb and Harry Gruyaert are some of my favorites. Women Street Photographers are now getting much overdue attention and I am proud to be a member of the group and having been a part of their inaugural virtual exhibition. There are too many to mention here but I will urge everyone to check out their Instagram feed @womenstreetphotographers
TPL: Does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography? What camera do you use? Do you have a preferred lens/focal length?
MR: My camera is a Fuji X100F and I can’t say enough about this perfect instrument. I love this camera because it’s small and unobtrusive and does everything I want. It’s a 23mm fixed lens so I don’t change lenses. If I want a more zoomed in shot I have to move closer. I lean towards looking for a ‘scene’ in the street so this camera allows me to do just that without a lot of adjustment.
TPL: What tips or advice you would give yourself if you started street photography all over again?
MR: Be patient and don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Listen and let your voice emerge.
TPL: What are some of your goals as an artist or photographer? Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
MR: I am creating my first photography book which has been an exciting challenge.
Editor's Note: Congratulations Maria! Maria has published her first photo book "Shore Stories" and is now available for order! This book is the culmination of years of Maria walking the beaches and photographing the grand circus of life played out on the shores of Lake Ontario.
"Since I began my adventures in street photography I've enjoyed telling myself stories about what I see and capturing the little dramas that roll out where sand meets water. I've also touched first hand the meaning of serendipity, the unexpected encounters, the witnessing of temporality, connection, surrender. The surprising narratives reveal themselves over and over again. I want to capture the essence of a beautiful ordinary life happening in public. Being a street photographer affords me all the time in the world to try to capture those moments after which nothing will ever be the same."
Check Maria's book out via the link below.
TPL: "When I am not out photographing, I (like to)…
MR: Hike in the woods. And imagine the kind of photographs I would like to make!"
As Maria Ricossa shows us, the beach is more than just a place of relaxation and respite — it is a place of discovery. Through her photographs, we get a glimpse into the lives of those who seek refuge by the shore. Maria’s work serves as an invitation for us to explore our own lives and uncover the stories beneath the surface. We too can take a journey of discovery, explore the possibilities before us and capture life’s moments in our own unique way. Join Maria on her journey and take the time to uncover more of her shore stories.