Photographer Maya Fuhr Talks Losing Control, Perception, and Airplane Deli Meat
Catching up with the regular VICE contributor at her latest solo show.
Think of the most kitschy, hipster-esque flash photographer that's crossed your eyeballs, and combine that with the creamsicle-toned colour palette you'd find in a Wes Anderson VSCO pack. What you're imagining is probably something resembling the work of Maya Fuhr—a 27-year-old Canadian photographer whose photographs have been featured in everything from Vogue to publications like Dazed, The Editorial Magazine, and VICE.
Scroll through her website and you'll see a catalogue sure to knock the average viewer off guard: loungey home shots illuminated by a blunt flash; high-fashion lines sandwiched beside models with garbage bags over their faces; gender-bending and the gender-less; women with power and people of colour. In short, Fuhr's work pushes the boundary without trying too hard—or saying too much—and it's a concept which has proven very successful.
Her most recent gallery show, "Curb the Hub," went down last weekend at Toronto's Gallery on Wade, and kept the vibes simple. A handful of photographs, loosely-held to the wall with magnets, surrounded by a few large images mounted on aluminum metal. The rest of the room was left empty—for spectators and their thoughts. This week, we spoke to Fuhr about her need to document her life, her lack of control, and what inspires her to take such striking pictures.
VICE: What motivated you to do this show?
Maya Fuhr: I think I just noticed how my style of photography has evolved now that I have an iPhone [versus physical photos], now that I'm on Instagram. Things like cropping my photo into a square and discarding the full format, that idea kind of came together when I was sitting with the curator [Sophie Blumenthal] and I was feeling really hectic and stressed out. I had been drinking a lot and partying a lot, my house was a mess, [portions] of my love life and personal life were all over the place.
I felt out of control, so I felt like it made sense to make an art show about control and lack of control. It was about being able to take those scenes of madness and crop them tight. Take charge of that image. Thematically, each photo presented in "Curb The Hub" is my own personal views on control; with the small nuances and acute details in each photo being the centre of the viewer's focus.
Were the photos you displayed at the show shot specifically to accomplish the concept you had in mind, or did you pull a lot of these from old sets you already had filed somewhere?
I shoot my life to document it, so a lot of these photos were in my archives. Day-to-day stuff I had saved up, y'know? There were a few photos I took in mind after forming the concept that are in the show, but each photo was hand-picked for the gallery. The context of the photos were important, but I had a lot of ways to take old photos and interpret them through the lens of control in my life.
The work you display in this show is uncomfortable to look at—like it's trying to give the viewer an anxious or claustrophobic vibe. At least, I got that.
It's interesting you say that. The crumpled images on the ground represent being out of control. Taking the images pictured and just saying, "Fuck it, I've had enough," and throwing it to the ground like trash. For example, the cowboy boots [represent] the idea of masculinity and the hardworking man [being the norm]. The [show] is centred around women, so that's certainly a theme I wanted to focus frustration through.
With that said, [the show] wasn't purposely meant to make people feel uncomfortable. But I'm glad you feel that way. I want my photos to make people feel a little piece of what I'm putting into them.
Off that point, this is a very personal collection of work, but those emotions you have may not translate perfectly to the audience. Do you think about other people or what they might think when you're working?
I definitely don't curate for other people. Each photo is hand-picked to tell my own story, but I can push people in a direction by [presenting it] differently. Like, the cropped photo—the images are grainy and pixelated—the resolution doesn't hold up when you zoom in. Even if you don't like seeing the full image, you can't get away from the wrongness of how distorted it looks up close. It's my way of saying, "No, this is what I want you to see."
One image in the show that really stood out to me is one where you're holding a piece of gross-looking deli meat in front of an airplane window. What's the story behind this?
I struggled with an eating disorder when I was a teenager, and while I don't have a problem with it anymore, the one thing I still don't do is eat red meat. I cut it out way back and I haven't touched it since.
A little bit ago, when I was on a flight from New York, the airline brought out some complimentary sandwiches. I was really hungry so I took a bite without thinking, and there was this deli meat inside. I pulled it off the bread and just held it in front of me. The photo was just a blunt way of [visualizing] my disgust with it.
Do you find a lot of your best work comes to you in a state of distress?
I try to photograph basically everything in my life, so I capture a lot of the [spontaneous] moments. Like, there's an image of this girl, [Ally], and she's lying on a couch with me shooting from over top of her. It looks like she's trying to protect herself from being murdered—like a [snuff photo] you find after a victim is discovered dead. That came from me just surprising her when she woke up. I'm exercising complete control over her, and it just came from a raw drive to just go ahead and do it.
How did she feel about that?
[laughs] Good thing you asked! I actually haven't shown her the photo yet. I'm going to text her right after this.
Do you find that a lot of the subjects you photograph don't understand the significant their photo might one day have in one of your projects?It depends, but I'd say, for the most part, yes. I am capturing what I see and a lot of that is loose. It comes from a place of disorganization, so forgetting to ask people for their opinion is part of that.
That sounds like it adds to the anxiety element of your life.
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