If you’re like me, when you take in this 25 year old’s exhibition at the THELMA, you’ll be spellbound, curious, mystified, delighted, and more than likely visually bemused.
Maia Flore is from the south of France. Toulouse to be exact. She has a delightful command of the english language, slightly broken, and pleasantly muted. Strange as it may seem, as a little girl Maia hated photography. Today, she creates magical imagery with it.
“It was my point of view as a child,” Maia said “my hatred of photography. Nothing related to now. You change, you grow, you explore.”
When she was 8 years old she spent a school year on the east coast of Africa, near Somalia.
“I didn’t understand why people took pictures of children,” she said “instead of helping them. I was at school with them. I was aware that we didn’t have the same reality. They were very poor. I was more close to them than someone who just took pictures of them and then go back to France and say, ‘Oh look at those poor people, what a shame that they are like this.’ I was angry that they said, ‘This is the reality of the world, this is a picture, and a picture is real.’ ”
“But then I figured out that we have different realities,” Maia explained “you can build something different with art, something in different ways, you are allowed to have a different life, a different reality with the pictures. That’s what I like to do with my photos is just be able to see things in a different way.”
Raised by her grandparents, Maia had no specific artistic mentor who influenced her.
“I looked at pictures in books,” she said “realizing that the cover means a lot about what was inside, and I had an interest in working with different images. My ambition was be an art director thinking that I would be able to work with images and build images in the process. From a drawing or picture, to having images in your hand, you can see things in a very different way.”
It wasn’t photography alone that drew her in.
“So I thought I’d try a different school.”
She and her boyfriend were walking in the rain in Paris about to look at an apartment to rent. He was going to go in alone to speak with the landlord.
“I wanted to get out of the rain. I turned around from the apartment building, and there was this school. And it was during a time of year with free days, and you could apply to the school for free. I met someone there who said I should apply. So I signed up, and there were two different exams. I passed the first one and thought, ‘Oh, that’s nice!’ Then I passed the second one, and was accepted to the school.”
The school Maia happened into to get out of the rain was L’Ecole des Gobelins in Paris. They accept only twenty students a year out of thousands of applicants.
“I thought, ‘maybe I should go,’ (laugh) and that’s how I started photography.”
Maia’s Elevated / Elevee series of photographs is borne from a nightmare she had.
“That’s the truth. It was a nightmare. But bad dreams always start with something bad, but always end with something positive. It’s weird. Since I was 7 years old I had only one nightmare, and it’s just silly. I dreamed I was on top of something like a tightrope, and it was the sea below, and I was happy, and the wind was blowing…and then someone pushed me. And I fell, and woke up. And I don’t know if I crashed on the rocks, or if I fly, or if I died…I don’t know?”
This was a recurring dream of hers until she was 15.
“It was weird (laugh). Maybe twice a year, and the nightmare was same every time. So I wanted to have an end to the nightmare. And this series of photos became the end of my nightmare, but the start of what you see.”
The photograph on the front cover is the first Maia created in this vein.
“I really liked how it looked,” she said “I thought I could bring this girl to different landscapes and start a trip with her around the world with different props. The props are related to my childhood.”
One day we may see our frozen lake-scape or escarpment horizon in some of her work because during her stay in Fond du Lac she ventured out onto Lake Winnebago with her camera.
“It was very scary (laugh). I know you are used to doing that, but I have never walked on ice.”
During Maia’s stay she conducted a 4-day workshop at the THELMA for photography students. Then she left for New York City to complete a freelance project. Next is a commission from the French Institute.
“They wanted a new view of both historical and contemporary places in France. So I just finished fifty pictures that are to be exhibited, and am now combining the photos with video that my boyfriend shoots. He is very talented too, and a musician and a PhD student. Together we went to many of the places like monuments and castles that are touristic, they asked me to make them look more artistic. It took me six months to finish. Those pictures will be on display in New York, and then Rome in April, and then Napoli in May, and in June in Milan, and then all around the world.”
Maia’s exhibition will be on display through March at Fond du lac’s Thelma Sadoff Center for the Arts at 51 Sheboygan Street.