Interview with Maya Stewart, a 17 year old film photographer

Maya Stewart is a 17 year old film photographer. She currently lives in Nashville and is a junior in high school. She’s been taking pictures for about three years. Her hobbies include photography, watching movies, and listening to true crime podcasts. Her “go-to” is shooting portraits on 35mm film, however she is starting to branch out more and more everyday. Maya has been featured in a few zines and is so excited to be working with the Cliché Teen Journal! If you want to find more of her work, you can see it on Instagram @lemonymaya

Interview by Daania Sharifi

Please introduce yourself to the readers.

Hey! My name is Maya, I’m 17 years old and my interests include photography and other fine arts! I also spend a lotttt of time watching movies and hope to make a good one some day.

Talk to us about photography. How did you first get introduced, what sort of photography do you do, etc 

For the longest time I saw myself solely interested in visual arts- specifically drawing. I didn’t really have an interest in photography until my freshman year of high school. I suddenly wanted to get a camera and my father told me he still had his old film camera somewhere in a storage room. So for my birthday that year we pulled it from the garage and I bought my first roll of film! I was so excited I ran around the house taking pictures of everything... However, in the end that roll came out blank. But it was okay because I just learned how to fix that from happening again. Fast forward a few years and I’ve recently bought myself a newer, better camera and I’m pumped to see what I do next.  I typically take pictures of my friends and family, however I’m trying to branch out and take more pictures of people I don’t know too well and hopefully even strangers! I love that! What is your favorite part about photography? What makes you passionate about it?

This might be kinda cliche (see what I did there) but I really enjoy photography because of the memories it captures. I don’t have the greatest memory of all time, so looking back at the photos I’ve taken reminds me exactly what was going on that day. Photography also shows me how much I’ve grown, some of my photos from when I first started are HORRIBLE and I would put a filter over them, which is something I would never do now. Another reason I enjoy photography is making people feel beautiful. When I take pictures of my friends (or anyone really) I want to make them feel powerful and confident. I hope that they look back at the pictures and smile.

hahaha yes! What sort of work do you do with photography? How have you been recognized/involved in the artistic community? I used to post my photography just for Instagram, because it was the only way I knew how to share my work with a larger audience. However, during quarantine I’ve been introduced to so many teen run zines and they’re all so cool. I have been submitting tons of work and writing to them just for fun! So far I’ve been featured in a few of them and it has been so exciting waiting to see if I made it in or not. I try to submit to as many as I can because the worst thing that can happen is that you don’t get it, but you can always try again another time. I highly suggest that anyone who wants to share their art, enter into one of these zines because you never know who could see your work and there are so many cool ones out there, you just have to find them! What do you define as a good photo? What makes you feel proud about a certain piece? Oh boy this is a difficult question!! I believe there is no real way to define a “good” photo because whatever I believe looks good to me, might look really bad to someone else. People say art is subjective all the time, but it’s true! Anyways, I’m usually proud of my OWN pictures if the photo is interesting. What I mean by this is if the photo can tell a story. Even the portraits I shoot have to have some sort of story behind them, that’s why I tend to stray away from simple portraits with simple backgrounds. It is hard for the audience to create a story if there isn’t really anything to look at. I agree! Art is definitely subjective! What other fine arts do you do? Along with photography, I also draw all the time. I mainly use ink, pencils, and the occasional marker. My drawing style also relates to my photography style, I just love faces what can I say! I also have been sculpting ever since I was little but that isn’t something I tend to do on the regular.

Who is your biggest inspiration? What is so inspiring about them? I’m greatly inspired by Gregory Crewdson. All of his pictures look like a scene from a movie which I adore. I hope that someday I can capture that same sort of still moment in time. As if the world went on pause for a moment. His subjects are usually stiff and uncomfortable, which sometimes reminds of characters in a Yorgos Lanthimos film. Crewdson’s photography is that blend of staged and natural, which is something I find incredibly interesting. You have to look at the picture and wonder whether this is a set or just something he happened upon. Another photographer that toes the line between staged and natural photography is Wolfgang Tillmans. I was introduced to his work very recently and I fell in love. I am particularly fond of his fashion photography. He takes pictures of his models in what looks like their own homes. I can’t really explain it. But their outfits match their surroundings. It is so cool and so satisfying to look at. How have you been coping with quarantine? What do you do to past time? Quarantine has been sooo boring. I love spending time with myself and my family, but this has just been a lot of bonding time. Probably too much. I miss taking pictures and seeing my friends. I even miss going to school (not the schoolwork, but just being somewhere other than my house.) To keep myself busy I’ve been watching all the movies that I never got around to watching, and teaching myself how to cook. Some movies I suggest that I’ve seen recently are: The Life Aquatic, Good Time, and Black Swan! Do you have any advice for beginner teen photographers? Tips & tricks? I am in no way an expert, in fact I’m still have a lot to learn about photography myself. But, I would say just take pictures of everything at first! That way you’ll quickly discover what you like to take pictures of and what you dislike. Also when you’re a beginner make sure to experiment all the time, with editing, models, etc. Photography should be something fun and not stressful. So have fun! If you’re lost and in need of inspiration find some artists whose work you enjoy to spark that creativity. I found a lot of my favorite photographers on Instagram and Youtube! Any advice to teens in general about life, school, social situations, etc

Hmmmmm. I would say just live in the moment. You will never have that moment again so you should live it to the fullest! I know that can be hard for some people (me especially) but there isn’t really a point in stressing out about the future, because in the end, whatever happens happens. Also take pictures while you’re in school, not just of your friends but of yourself. I used to be incredibly self conscious all the time so I would stay out of photos etc. Now I’ve realized I don’t have anything to look back on which is so upsetting. That’s why for my senior year I’ve made it a personal goal to take pictures of everything and everyone that I can. Also,  (this is something I constantly tell myself) no one cares what you look like, wear that outfit, wear that makeup and just be PROUD of who you are!!!

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