in conversation with: MARIA RICOSSA
Maria Ricossa lives in Canada and has worked as a professional actor for over thirty years in theatre, film and television. And as an actor, Maria has spent her life delving beneath the surface of a character to reveal the details of human behaviour. But as a street photographer, Maria is drawn to the story she sees in front of her. She looks for the scene, that moment of dramatic tension or the beginning, middle and end of something wanting to make photographs to discover what she sees.
Although photographing on many streets in many cities, Maria keeps returning to make photographs at the beach. It’s here that time stops for her and life unfolds in unexpected ways. People reinventing and rearranging themselves when they come to the beach and suddenly a devised theatre of connection appears. Maria is drawn into this something that has just happened or is about to happen. She is able to see the sketch of a character, a hint of a story and the joy of a feeling. There is a mystery conveyed in Maria's photographs as people go about living their best lives by the water.
Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you become interested in photography?
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.
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?
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
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?
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.
What have been some of your favourite memories or moments in your photography journey? What have you personally gained from your experiences?
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.
When you are out shooting - how much of it is instinctual versus planned?
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.
What are some tips/advice you would give yourself if you started street photography all over again?
Be patient and don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Listen and let your voice emerge.
Do you have any favourite artists/photographers?
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.
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?)
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.
What are some of your goals as an artist or photographer? Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
I am creating my first photography book which has been an exciting challenge.
“When I am not out photographing, I (like to)…
Hike in the woods. And imagine the kind of photographs I would like to make!"