To say the least, Maia Flore’s brand of surrealist photography excels in accomplishing the goals of contemporary artwork.
Her artwork is quietly enthralling—while each piece is initially attractive in its apparent delicate beauty, Flore’s artwork is powerful in a way that goes beyond the aesthetic nature of her images. The interactions between the various elements in her images showcase a relationship between the real and the imaginary to expose the precarious nature between the two. This back and forth relationship resonates with the viewer’s own desire to test the boundaries of limitations—essentially unearthing an inherent trait of humanity.
Her images are undoubtedly beautiful, yet, it’s almost as though her images are interesting in spite of their obvious beauty. Flore exercises control over the interactions between her landscapes and the objects of her images as she fearlessly navigates the fine line between reality and fantasy. Flore’s pieces embody the courage, the curiosity and the technique required to visually represent this artistic, and very human theme.
Her artwork is successful in the sense that it succeeds in unveiling a reflex emotion amongst its viewership, but her series also continue to guide the viewer to provoke the thought process that help to explore that initial, instinctual reaction.
BARE Interview with Maia Flore:
Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do?
Of course, my name is Maia Flore, and I’m a member of Agency VU in Paris, a part of the Galerie Esther Woerdehof in Paris and a gallery in SF called Themes+Projects. I have been working on photography since 2010, and have recently become involved in working with film as the art director for Kinfolk Magazine.
What initially inspired you to pursue art?
As a teenager, I explored a little bit of everything—art, paintings, drawings, music—and I felt as if all of these mediums allowed me to express myself more wholly than if I was just speaking with words. I initially was a volunteer in a music venue when I was really young and I met a lot of people from the music industry there, and unfortunately, it so happened that I didn’t have any gift for music, but I did discover at this time that I could really express myself through pictures. At the time, I wasn’t yet interested in photography specifically; I was actually mostly just interested in illustrating stories whether with paintings, sketches, etc. I’ve actually only became interested in photography after I went to school where I studied graphic design and photography in Paris. I decided that I wanted to be an art director so that I could exercise more control over my own vision. I started with graphic art, which includes, pretty much everything—painting, sculptures, and typography—but then I switched into a photography school where I properly learned technique.
Do you still experiment with other forms?
Yes, definitely. I was doing a lot of painting, and you know, maybe that was even how I started to do photography as well, because with every picture that I produce, I first start by making a rough drawing or collage. But I wasn’t completely happy with the results of just painting or drawing, and it was when I translated my paintings into photography that I first become interested in something really personal. Photography feels very real. With my drawings, I could draw whatever I wanted, but it was very different with photography.
Is that also why you focus on surrealism?
Yes, that’s always been something I’ve been really interested in. I’ve actually felt a real connection to the works of Arthur Rimbaud [a French poet whose works prefaced surrealism]. I always felt like we both had something in common. And I also always really admired the surrealist movements in France because it just had a way of connecting with what I feel.
In most of your pieces, is there an overarching theme that you work to maintain?
That’s funny, I read something the other day that was saying that we always are unconsciously pursuing something that we may not be able to really identify in the moment, but it feels as though you are always pushing towards the same thing. I feel like I’m working in circles, to find new ways to explore whatever that is, to find new pathways to that end goal. I have this big question that I don’t know if I’ll ever solve, but it’s of the relation between time and space. I feel that with photography, I can pause for a moment in time because in my daily life, I want to be everywhere doing everything, and in many places, the limited time I have there isn’t enough for me. So it’s actually very peaceful, very quiet in a way to create those pictures for myself. So I guess, it’s just a big general question of what we’re doing on Earth at a specific time and place.
Out of your own pieces, is there one picture or one series that is your particular favorite?
Oh, you know when you’re in the process of making these pictures; you just hate them all (she says jokingly). I’m really happy with the images of my series, Sleep Elevations, because it really progressed my career professionally- it’s taken me to a lot of new heights, to a lot of new places. But I think for me personally, my favorite will always be my next piece, the one that I can look forward to pursuing.
Sleep Elevations is pure and simplistic at its core. Balloons, clouds and other playful elements transport these young girls into the air through infinite landscapes. Every minor detail inverts the performance to pull it into this supernatural world—a step into an overbearing fragility, of gentility and of poetry. The young girls fly across landscapes feathered by light.
Looking forward, is there a project that you have been anticipating that you consider one of your dreams to complete?
Yeah actually! I’ve had a project in mind for many years, and like any project, it will take many years to complete. It’s one that involves many different mediums- photography, videography, installations, music—I essentially would want it to be as open as possible and I envision translating interior landscapes. I grew up with my grandmother, and I recently realized that when she speaks, she never uses any adjectives, she manages to describe her emotions in very unique ways. I remember she would always say, “I feel like there’s a rainbow in this house,” rather than just simply state, “I’m happy.” In a way, this allows you to really feel another’s sentiment in a way that is more poignant. So I would love to illustrate this in a project where I would gather all of these emotions and represent those visually. What does it look like or feel like when someone is happy or sad? That is the dream, to be able to translate those states of being into my work.
Were you working with a team on these projects?
No actually, usually it’s just me working alone or with one other person. I prefer to have a very intimate space, so I usually choose not to have anyone on set with me.
These portraits are very different from the landscapes that you generally work with, but these images are similar in the sense that they illustrate a story as well. What was your inspiration for the photos that you took for Chanel, Valentino, Valli and Dior ?
The French daily newspaper, Libération, commissioned this project to me in January of 2016. My work on this project was primarily conducted backstage as I didn’t have the access or the time to dedicate to the creative process as I would with my personal work. My images evoke the best parts of the experience, as more of a distant, observational study. At this level, the world of fashion is truly fascinating.
Do you work in fashion often?
I’ve been working in fashion since January for a newspaper called Libération, it’s one of the major newspapers in France alongside LeMonde. I also worked backstage at Fashion Week in Paris, which is always a lot of fun. I did Fashion Week for men, which was really different, and I actually really preferred this because the environment is much more relaxed backstage; there is a lot less pressure. Right now I’m working for Cartier, and it’s been really fun to work in different fields. I’ve also been doing a residency in Deauville, Normandy, where I was invited to do some personal work. That has been rewarding because it’s nice to have the freedom to explore my own interests independent of a specific client’s interests.
What was your inspiration for Paris au mois d’août and Le Voyage Fantastique?
Paris au mois d’août is a French brand by a French designer, and I created a lookbook for that brand when I was working as an art director for them. When I was working on this I wanted to completely break all the rules to emphasize the poetry in her work and to translate our world in a way that she could use to represent her brand. Le Voyage Fantastique was a commissioned project by the French Institute and the Minister of Tourism. So while these two project showcased landscapes throughout France, I approached them in very different ways because I was still given complete artistic liberty. I visited 25 monuments in France and spent 3 months from July to September and attempted to showcase France in a very contemporary way, which is quite different from its previous portrayals.
Do you enjoy traveling as much as you do for your work?
Yes, that’s something I love about all of my different projects because it allows me to approach them all in very unique ways. I would describe being in a new place as forcing you to “trouver un déséquilibre,” which basically means to put yourself in a situation where you are slightly unbalanced initially and thus forced to right yourself. I feel that when I’m in the same place for too long, I’m forced to break habits and to rediscover myself and other people as well.
In Situations, a young girl dashes through time with her red coat to pursue landscapes that have yet to be explored. Searching for an indescribable feeling of liberty, she travels to rediscover ephemeral moments with nature. Dressed in red, she is caught by the sun and disappears into the fog. As if to rediscover the space, she teeters atop these clouds of the soil that eventually evaporate into the landscape at the time when the sun returns to dispel the air of mystery. As if a game between reality and imagination, a contrast between clairvoyance and fleeting madness, the young girl amuses herself with the disarray of emotions.
This question is about your series, Situations, can you describe your inspiration behind this narrative of the girl in these images?
Yeah, I started this project when I was living in Iceland, and the first picture was of the girl (who’s actually me in these images), doing the bridge. Living in Iceland was a very different experience for me because the landscapes, nature in general is very expansive and powerful there and this picture I did it on the very first day after winter. So winter in Iceland sees no sunlight, so after 3 months of virtually perpetual darkness, I took this picture at the first sunrise as a sort of celebration of the sun painting the horizon. It was really amazing. Then I came back to the South of France where my family lives, and this was so different in comparison because there was no space for nature here, it was humanity everywhere and it created a strange sense of claustrophobia for me where I felt like I didn’t have enough space for creation.
That molded itself into this project where I felt like whenever I felt the presence of the sun were times that I felt more constricted because it felt like I was being watched in a way, which is why the images of me in the sun are more rigid and stiff where I was frozen amidst the landscape. But in the images taken in the fog, I felt more open; freer to do whatever I want which is when I explored the space around me. So the series was a personal response in a way of me interacting with these landscapes, and the weather too where I was chasing the fog, shrinking away from the sun and was a playful interaction overall for me with that space. My grandmother actually helped me a lot with this project. I’m definitely not a morning person, and she would be up early checking to see if the weather was what we needed. And it was interesting for her as well to re-explore her own city, her own backyard even in a completely new way.
This series seems to be the journey of the girl dressed in red; what is the story that you are trying to illustrate with this girl?
This series was constructed as a story over the course of time without really knowing where it was going and how it would end. When I returned from Iceland and rediscovered agricultural landscapes that were exploited from my hometown in the South of France, I was genuinely shocked at first glance. After enveloping myself in pure, harmonious landscapes where Nature is the Queen, it was difficult to find myself amidst landscapes that were entirely worked over by the hands of man. In Iceland, the power of nature rejuvenated me at a time when I felt small. Upon returning to France, it was difficult for me to find my place amidst nature at a time when I felt that I needed it.
What influenced your decision, as the artist, to dress the girl in red?
Wearing this coat for the images signified the return to action of this character, similar to an actor who sports a costume to find and embody the defining traits of their character. Additionally, the color red is a hue that speaks for itself. We often discuss the “fil rouge” to describe a common thread, or motif, that guides us through a story from one scenario to the next. Ultimately, the color red acts as the “fil rouge”—similar to the theatre where an actor assumes a costume before coming on stage, this small touch I added with the red clothing has become a “bleu de travail” (blue-collar uniform indicative of the regularity of everyday work), but still remains a creative touch that is synonymous with moments of liberty.
To see more of Maia’s work, click here.