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INTERVIEW

June 21, 2024

THE ART OF SELF

Photography by Mia Depaola
Interview by Karen Ghostlaw Pomarico

The Pictorial List has the pleasure of presenting an intuitive photographer with a strong creative inner perspective that inspires. Mia Depaola is a Washington D.C. luminary whose artistry transcends borders and languages. From her earliest memory, the language of photography and art has always intrigued Mia. It focused her critical and creative thinking, shaping her perceptions while illuminating the world in poetic visuals.

Born beneath the azure skies of Portugal, nurtured and educated amidst the cultural tapestry of Belgium, Mia speaks three languages infusing her work with richness and depth. She embarked on a journey that traversed numerous countries, each contributing to the kaleidoscope of experiences that shape her visual storytelling. Mia found solace and expression in the language of art and photography. It was through the lens of her father's Polaroid that first glimpsed through the viewfinder ignited in her, the power of visual storytelling. Imagine the legacy of the hobbyist, and the photography that he imparted, transcending generations and epochs.

Initially, Mia’s photographic endeavors mirrored his, capturing the essence of travel and familial moments. Yet, as the sands of time shifted, so too did Mia’s artistic evolution. Photography ceased to be a mere documentation tool; it transformed into a conduit for profound artistic expression — an extension of my innermost thoughts and emotions.

An introvert by nature, Mia sought solace and camaraderie within online photography communities nearly a decade ago. Here, amidst pixels and screens, she found a sanctuary where creativity knows no bounds. Guided by the wisdom of online courses and the collective encouragement of fellow artisans spanning the globe, Mia embarked on a journey of self-discovery and technical mastery. Here, amidst the collective wisdom of fellow artisans, she honed her craft, experimenting with techniques and embracing the boundless possibilities of their art.

Driven by her relentless passion encouraged by the supportive and kind words of friends and colleagues globally, Mia gained confidence and started submitting her work, developing a clear dialogue, while growing as a photographer. Yet, amidst the accolades and acclaim, their artistic journey remains grounded in the simple joy of creation, a true testament to the transformative power of the art of photography to unite souls and transcend boundaries.

When the world came to a standstill due to the pandemic, it was as if someone pressed pause on our lives. Suddenly, familiar places were off-limits, and we found ourselves confined within the walls of our homes. As the days stretched into weeks, Mia began to explore the intimacy of their own space through the lens of her camera.

She embarked on a journey of self-discovery through self-portraiture. With each click of the shutter, she set out to visually captured raw emotions rather than staged poses. Mia wanted to peel back the layers of her very own existence revealing the complexities hidden within.

At first, the process felt almost too revealing, her exposure to recognizable. As Mia delved deeper into her photography, she began exploring ways to add texture and mystery to each image. Experimenting with techniques such as layering and multiple exposures, she discovered new dimensions of her self-expression. Every photograph becomes a canvas for exploration, a reflection of a complex myriad emotions.

“Most times I envision the type of feeling I wish to convey before I press the shutter button…multi layering because we’re all multilayered and complex.”

Other times, the images would take on a life of their own, revealing aspects of Mia that surprised her and had never before acknowledged.

As the weeks turned into months, Mia’s work began to gain recognition. Her photographs were published, awarded, and exhibited in galleries. What had started as a personal project born out of strange and sometimes almost impossible circumstances soon evolved into something greater than Mia could have imagined.

The “Pandemic Diaries,” was the original title of this series, it became a testament to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity. It was a visual diary of her journey through isolation, a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there is beauty to be found.

But as the world began to slowly reopen, Mia realized that her journey was far from over. The “Pandemic Diaries” had morphed into something new, something more expansive. It had become the “Artist Next Door,” more recently developing into “MiArt”, presently “The Art of Self”, an exploration of the art of self-discovery. Through these photographs, she invites others to join her on this journey of self-exploration. To peel back the layers of their own existence and discover the beauty within. For we are all multilayered and complex, each of us a work of art waiting to be unveiled. And through the lens of her camera, she captures the essence of what it means to be human.

We asked Mia some questions about her inspiring journey as a visual storyteller, and about her project that she has been so diligently working on for almost a decade.

“Photography and art have always been part of my life. I’ve recorded memories like snapshots long before I held a camera.”

IN CONVERSATION WITH MIA DEPAOLA

THE PICTORIAL LIST: Hi Mia, thank you for sharing your personal perspective and brilliant project you started during the trying and confining isolating time of the Pandemic, that continues today. Please tell our readers about how you saw yourself at the onset of the project, in comparison to how you see yourself now. Have you changed? If so, how?

MIA: At the onset of the pandemic, I wasn’t unreasonably concerned. It’s when lockdowns started that it became more difficult for me, especially with mobility restrictions. I do lots of street photography actually, on the way to some routine errand I usually take a lightweight camera and I look around. I follow the light, what mood is there? I don’t photograph people, I’m more interested in ordinary things, trivial stuff like flowers for instance. So, I missed that right away when confinement was the norm. What am I going to photograph now? So, it hit me, why not document yourself. The pandemic, it definitely pushed me in different directions.

TPL: Did the project help you cope with the Pandemic? What skills have you strengthened, learned, developed in your search for ‘Self’?

MIA: The silver lining if I may use that phrase, is it propelled me to learn new things, getting more comfortable with portrait photography. So, I put my portable backdrop in my kitchen or in the guest bedroom and started photographing myself. Split lighting was my favorite, occasionally butterfly lighting. Eventually I started experimenting more with lighting to try to achieve different shadows, a bit of drama 😊, split lighting is still my preferred option in most selfies. It was like therapy in a way. I believe it helped me grow some self-confidence and at the same time procured a positive diversion from the unusual time we were going through.

TPL: Were there photographers you looked to for inspiration, direction? If so, who were they and were they interested in self-portraiture?

MIA: I don’t recall looking up for particular portraitists, I would look online for tips and try to apply them. Eventually I felt unsatisfied with the results, it was too intimate, my emotions bare, too raw. That’s when I came up with the idea to experiment with layers. I tried and used several different types of editing tools allowing me to superimpose images. Overlay add, lighten or darken opacity. Every image is processed differently. Some layers work well, and others don’t. Some images take days to complete, others will take just a few hours. What I mean is each piece is uniquely processed. Some images include only 2 or 3 layers others can be up to 10.

TPL: You say that the project has changed and developed from the initial start of this study during the Pandemic, what are these changes? Have they changed the way you engage and then process your work?

MIA: The main change is the gain in knowledge for image processing, I finally tackled photography editing tools like photoshop and more recently I’ve started using Affinity. And on a personal level, it’s been life affirming to have some of my work being published, awarded and even exhibited. Never imagined my work would interest anyone enough and that I would get accolades from such a personal project.

TPL: What are some challenges or obstacles you faced, and how did you overcome them? Share some personal wisdom and advice with our readers.

MIA: Oh, I’m not sure I’m wise, humbly I would just say believe in yourself, keep trying and be curious. Also, that no project is uninteresting if it comes from the heart. Because the viewers will definitely see it. Some will appreciate your work while others won’t, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter, it should be about your intent, what you want to convey. You can’t go wrong like that. Focus (pun intended) on your ability to see not on your technical ability. I like this quote from Peter Adams, “great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field.”

TPL: What are some of the successes from the project, were there any surprises you embraced? If so, please share what they were.

MIA: Well, everything was astonishing to me. From the results I obtained from my imagination and new techniques of experimentation to finally taking the step to sharing and posting online, to submitting for publication…to being awarded, to being approached by an art gallery…never imagined such a personal project would get positive responses and feedback. However, I don’t want to be complacent, I wish to keep learning new techniques, try something new, in essence keeping the original project but keep growing with it as a photographer and as a woman. Maturing.

I’ve always been an imaginative person ever since I was little.

TPL: Do you think projects are something photographers should consider doing? What is their value? Have they helped you grow as an artist? If so, how?

MIA: I humbly recommend to any photographer to have a personal project. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is. It’s a positive endeavor and along the way, photographers will realize their project evolves because we’re evolving, we’re constantly evolving as photographers and as human beings. It’s like documenting your own journey as a photographer.

TPL: What do you want your photographs to inspire in other people? What is their “takeaway”? What is your “takeaway”?

MIA: Emotions, to evoke a gamut of emotions, it’s in the eye of the beholder. The viewer’s responses are varied. My work was described as dark, unorthodox, creative, artistic and even avant-garde, spooky…it doesn’t matter how it’s perceived; the most important thing is to inspire emotion in others.

TPL: What inspires your unique visual storytelling? Do you have a specific message you wish to reveal to the viewer? Or is there no intention, leaving the view to draw their own conclusions?

MIA: I wish the viewer to experience their own emotions. My hope is that the viewers will get some comfort at dealing with their own feelings, a sort of therapeutic experience. Releasing their own negative feelings and emotions. The thought that I could ever help someone do that would be tremendous.

TPL: Where do you find your inspiration to create? When do you feel most inspired?

MIA: I’ve always been an imaginative person ever since I was little. My parents and teachers would often complain about my head being in the clouds. I used to daydream a lot, fantastic stories in my mind. I sometimes think it just comes from my dreams, unconsciously. As far as inspiration, I can get inspired by an ordinary flower, for instance, that most people don’t have time to notice. The light, the mood of the moment is very important.

TPL: If you could just choose one photographer to shoot alongside for a day...who would you choose? And why? Do you have a favorite quote you would like to share?

MIA: Definitely Gordon Parks.

“I feel it is the heart, not the eye, that should determine the content of the photograph. What the eye sees is its own. What the heart can perceive is a very different matter.”

But after reflecting a bit more I would choose my father. He was a hobby photographer recording our family moments and travels. He passed away 9 years ago, and I regret not being able to share the news about my first published photo in 2019, and what would he have said?

All 3 of us photographers, and all 3 of us self-taught.

TPL: When you're not creating work, what else rocks your world, Mia? What would we find you doing if not photography?

MIA: I enjoy cooking with fresh produce, I just love all the prep involved. I’m not a cordon bleu by any means, just simple recipes. Olive oil veggies and protein, I make lots of stews during the colder months, it’s heartwarming.

Walking and hiking is another fave. Travel is a must; I love to discover other places. That's how I started my photography journey as an adult, travel photography was a way to document. As a child I used to carry my beloved Polaroid around and record family moments. I wish I had one or two of those grainy photos remaining.

So, join The Pictorial List in celebrating the luminous vision of this remarkable photographer, whose work serves as a beacon of inspiration for developing self-awareness. Through their lens, we glimpse the beauty of the human spirit, forever immortalized through their insightful photography.

Her interest in art, nature and travel as well as her multilingual life experience has provided opportunities to develop a unique and unconventional approach to photography. Photography is essential in her life. Following the light and her instincts, Mia sees art in the most mundane things. Her artistic vision is to evoke a gamut of emotions. Constantly looking to experiment with her work and striving to learn and grow as a photographer.

Mia’s work has been published, honored with many prestigious awards and exhibits globally. Follow the link to her portfolio to see the dynamic range of visual storytelling Mia Depaola embraces, be inspired by more of her work by supporting her and following her on her social media links.

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