Woman Crush Wednesday: Maria Lax
Interview by Hallie Neely
Your images are inspired by firsthand accounts of UFO sightings in Pudasjärvi, Finland. Why choose Finland to make your work?
Because I am from there. As a kid, my family moved around a lot and I've always felt like a bit of an outsider and had this love-hate relationship with Finland and moved to the UK straight after high school. After living abroad for almost a decade I decided to move back, pretty much on a whim. It happened very quickly and financially it was a complete disaster but I had this real need to reconnect with where I came from.
The town where I grew up is the sort of place most people pass through on their way to somewhere else, and a place you find really dull and boring when you're young. Going back I had a real thirst to hear stories and get to know people like my late grandparents better. As a aprt of that I read my grandad's book about the UFO sightings in the area in the 70s and something about people's accounts of seeing these beautiful, mysterious lights in the wilderness really stayed with me.
You're a filmmaker as well as a photographer. How do your films and photography inform each other?
I studied cinematography and worked in film and TV before I started taking still two years ago - and I think my approach was almost like building a storyboard for a film rather than making a photo series. It's less like that now, but it's still very important to me to find a storyline, and I write quite a bit for each project. Guess it's almost like I am making a movie script only I get to read.
This project is personal by nature, since your late grandfather collected these firsthand UFO accounts when he was woking as a journalist. How have you made this work your own?
The UFOs and mysterious lights were an inspiration and a starting point; but I built the story and reimagined what did not exist, so these photographs are very much mine.
I started taking these photos as a way to reimagine my surroundings that felt strangely alien to me despite me having known them for all my life. Reading about lights that brought forests alive at night with bright colours or would follow people on the way home, lighting their path through the darkness before disappearing into the sky... Many people I spoke to who had seen them, the lights had given them hope in a time that was very tough. When I went back to Finland it was quite a hard time for me on many different levels and perhaps I started creating them for the same purpose.
Do you work with a team to create these photographs, or is it a one-woman job?
It's very much just me standing outside in the middle of the night, listening to the silence - and waiting. I guess with both photography and film I have developed this way of working very independently partly out of necessity, and it seems to be working out for the kind of projects I currently do. I am working on a new photo series that will be published as a book next year, and creating this new body of work has been very much the same process: I've driven around different countries at night by myself. But I will be spending 6 weeks in Benin to make a film and a photo series, and there I will have a collaborator Piety Arvola who is a musician and sound artist; having someone to work with and to have someone around will be quite different!
What is the most challenging part about making this work?
This particular series in Northern Finland was tough because I felt quite isolated, leaving my friends and London life behind. Financially things were a huge struggle because I could not find any jobs in Finland. I did not even have a camera so my dad gave me his old, very basic, DSLR I used for most of the pictures; technical limitations were a challenge but I think it was great as I had to push what I could do with the bare minimum and could focus on finding my style.
How would you describe your creative process in one word?
If you could teach one, one-hour class on anything, what would it be?
What is the last book you read, or film you saw, that inspired you?
I am quite late to the party but I recently watched Embrace of the Serpent and I loved it - a nightmarish adventure (you don't quite want it to end) that looks absolutely stunning
What is the most played song in your music library?
Probably something by Nick Cave
How do you take your coffee?
Medium roast with soy milk - and I have the biggest cafetiere (French press coffee pot) so lots of coffee is the key here.