Yolanda McMahon is a self-taught photographer from Medford who describes her work as cinematic, dramatic and abstract.
How did you get started as a photographer?
I started photography once a friend of mine in 2010 got a DSLR and we would go around MA finding places to shoot. I experimented a bit with lighting and settings
What kind of gear do you use? Do you have a favorite lens?
I work mainly with my Canon Rebel. I’m not big into the technical side of photography so as long as I can capture a moment, I’m set. (Shout out to Galaxy phone cameras as well!) Some of my favorite photos in low light have been from a Galaxy phone.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired by the vision I see in a shot. I have a goal with almost every photo, I see the photo how I want to in my head and then work from there. I love making ordinary things look out of the ordinary
You said your work is very “cinematic” and I totally agree. Can you talk more about this? Are you inspired by film? How do you capture the world in a “cinematic” way?
I wouldn’t say I’m inspired by film (I actually don;t watch much TV or movies) I’m more in tune with music, vision and emotion. I like putting music to the mood of my photos and make up my own cinematic world
Do you plan out the entire shot beforehand or do you see what happens in the moment?
I always shoot in the moment. I wish I could plan better actually
What’s your favorite place to take photographs?
My favorite place to take photos is typically outside or anywhere that I can turn into something more than it is. Even subway stations, stairs and hallways catch my eye. It usually depends on everything being “right
Do you edit the images in photoshop once you’ve taken them?
I edit my images in Adobe Lightroom. I’ve been seeing a lot of photoshop work recently, which has its own beauty, sweat and tears. But it tends to lose its authenticity for me
What project are you currently working on?
I feel like I’m always working on multiple projects at once. I usually have thousands of photos to edit that just pop up in my camera roll.
Are there any artists who inspire you? Any photographers you style your work after?
A good friend of mine, Jen Rose @Jenniferrose has always inspired me with her photos and also due to the fact that we share a lot of the same style.
What is the greatest achievement you’ve reached so far as an artist? What are you the most proud of, and what are your goals?
There is a hint of personal meaning in my photos once I’m satisfied with my work. But, I tend not to have a connection to the shot itself, only once I’ve “perfected” it
My most recent achievement has been my first published photos in a magazine (Visual Mag Issue 006) I dont have any strong goals with photos other than doing better and better with my work for myself. Everything good tends to come after that like a cherry on top
What words would you use to describe your work?
I love the neon colors of the people on a dark backdrop. How did you achieve that look? What does it mean to you?
I have very little experience with all things photo, as for the past 8 years I’ve self taught myself everything. The neon photos were shot in my basement with a little color changing light bulb from my room!
From these images I feel like you spend a lot of time capturing your life with a camera, is that a fair assessment? Do you find value in capturing moments or memories?
I originally would always take photos due to my short term memory being not so great. Being a visual person and having photos of certain moments would jog my memory of the feeling I had when I went to go take the photo. If it was important enough for me to capture it in the moment, then I want to keep it to look back on.
Above all, I’d like to add that depth is everything. To pull emotional depth is important. Its understanding others, I guess I’d say I connect more in negative space* with others. Creating a very real, raw, sometimes sad, special and beautiful outlook on the world.
*negative space may sound bad but is my term for the unseen part of our world. Its kind of like that “feeling” in space around us, not us, and how we experience it. It’s fun to build around it in a photo- composition.
Tatiana is a Boston-based photographer who creates incredible eye-catching photography. We are thrilled to share some of her work and this in-depth interview about her process.
Is there something universal that you express in your photos, or does it change piece to piece?
Beauty! It`s all about the beauty. It comes in different forms, shapes, colors and that is what excites me the most. I want to show people how beautiful they are.
Some of your photos look like they come from another world, it’s so beautiful! Do you have a vivid imagination?
Thank you! This means so much to me! Ever since I was a little kid, people were saying that I had a very vivid imagination.
Many things can be a source of inspiration for me. Very often I get ideas from my dreams: I can see a perfect set, a beautiful color pallet or even a pose. And when I wake up I have a vision of what I would like to photograph next.
Sometimes my inspiration comes from music: at first melodies bring up a certain feeling, and then it grows into a vivid image.
And of course I must mention the nature. It is the biggest source of inspiration for me! And it doesn’t have to always be a forest or a scenic river. I just take a walk outside and start looking for a “photogenic” set. Quite often after posting a photo I get messages from people asking in what garden/forest that photo was taken. And they get very surprised when I say that “This is a giant rhododendron blooming right next to Dunkin’ Donuts in Arlington”:)
Inspiration is everywhere! Generating ideas is a very exciting process that makes you look inside of you by being open to the outside world.
Do you plan what a photo will look like before you plan the shoot?
I always know in what direction I want the certain project to go. Having a vision helps a lot to have most of preparation work done before the actual shoot. When you are well prepared you feel more relaxed, and that helps to boost your creativity. There’s no strict starting point of the planning process: it can be the location that a concept is based on; it can be the model, the outfit, the color pallet, the props. Each time the options are endless and I get to choose what inspires me the most.
I truly enjoy when the models and hair&makeup artists take an active part in the creative process. I discuss the details of a shoot with everyone who is involved. We do sketches, mood boards and share our thoughts.
What is something you look for in your models?
Oh this is a good one:)
I am always in search for new faces for my projects. If it is a particular look I am going for, then in this case I am looking for someone who would fit perfectly onto the concept I have in mind. I can even ask a person on a street if they would like to be my model! In fact, the majority of people I do the art projects with are not professional models.
Sometimes there is no concept yet, and I am simply looking for a muse. In this case I open all my social media resources and start the search. I get quite a lot of messages/emails from people who would like to work together and I am very grateful for that. However, the moment someone says “I have a big white fluffy dog/snake/big ladder/huge truck/collection of wigs that we could use…” my attention immediately goes to that person! When I see that someone is willing to contribute, to be a part of the process or simply has a desire to create – I usually can not resist! I guess that is what I am looking for in my models.
Color seems very important to your images, is that something you are conscious of when editing them?
For me it all comes naturally. I know that the color has the power to create different mood for images: it can make you feel happy, or calm, or sad. It can be used to show the contrast between the objects, or harmonize them and bring together. However, I never think of it from a technical perspective. I want the image to look certain way, and to give certain feelings to people who see it, so I make sure it represents my vision. It`s a very intuitive process to find a right color scheme, and it begins at the stage of planning the shoot. I can find a beautiful color combination at a very unexpected place, and then use it later for a project. It can be anything – a reflection on a wet pavement, a colorful bird, flowers, paintings… Few days ago I was at a fabric store and noticed that three different fabrics were randomly put together on a sale shelf. They matched so well, that I took a photo of them and guess what, it’s in my “inspiration folder” now;)
Do you use a lot of photoshop after the fact?
Photo editing is an amazing tool, if you know what you want from it. It provides you with yet another opportunity to express your vision. Sometimes I use it to make light corrections, sometimes I use it to create different worlds;)
Drawing, changing the mood of the entire photo by stylizing it, turning summer into winter, adding different effects – all that is a part of the editing process that I enjoy a lot. You can be a photographer and a painter at the same time! Isn’t that great?
Of course, not every photoshoot is a creative art project, so it really depends on what I am going for. I can improve every little detail of the photo and make it look impeccable. Attention to details brings the entire image to the next level.
How did you get started as a photographer? Do you find this area a good place to work on photography?
It all started few years ago with me taking photos of… myself 🙂 Then friends started asking if I could take their photos as well. That’s how it all started.
A year ago I moved to Boston and started discovering new possibilities. I think this area is a great place to work in photography.
Are you outside photographing in all the seasons? What is the worst weather you have shot in?
Yes, I am always outside! Nature is my biggest inspiration and I absolutely enjoy shooting outdoors with natural light. It feels like the entire world is my studio where I get to create absolutely anything I want. So much freedom!
I believe every season has something magical to offer, but things get tricky when the weather goes to its extremes. Excessive heat, cold, snow or rain are challenging. Of course you can always postpone the shoot, but if it is exactly the extreme that you are looking for your project, then you should look for a model who is equally willing to do this. Team work is essential. No matter if it is a client or a TFP model, you need positive energy at the shoot, and a mutual desire to create beautiful photos. That way you can overcome even the worst weather conditions and turn the entire process into a fun and unforgettable experience!
I had several snow shoots at the frozen lake few weeks ago. It was extremely cold, windy and the models had to wear light summer dresses. We parked the cars as close to the shooting location as possible and kept them running in order to be able to come back any moment and warm up. We also brought hot tea and warming pads. After finding a perfect spot and making test shots, the models were taking off their winter jackets and we were shooting for few minutes. Short break. Shooting for few minutes again. It was challenging but fun at the same time!
Where do you find the amazing clothing and sets in your work?
I consider myself a lucky photographer because I get to work with many very talented and creative people. I am proud of a network of professionals I know: everyone is a pro at what they do, and that allows making any ambitious idea come true!
Very often clients and models suggest their outfits/props/ideas and then we put it all together into one art look. I am also good with making props myself, starting from flower crowns to making simple dresses. This is exactly how I started doing my first art projects – making things with my own hands.
Where can we find you on social media? Do you have a website we can promote?
How did you get into fashion design? Where was your start?
I started making clothes as a child, I remember learning to sew when I must have been 12 years old. The first clothes I ever made was a Halloween costume for me and a friend in sixth grade, and in high school started buying used clothes at GoodWill just to tear them apart to use as pattern pieces. I’ve never followed a store-bought pattern, so that’s how I learned to make my own patterns!
I studied fashion at Massachusetts College of Art and Design and graduated in 2018. Two of my favorite classes at fashion school were Couture Techniques and Tailoring where I learned about high-end clothes making, and I think those techniques of making very structured garments is evident in my work.
I love how unique your work is, how do you feel you fit into the overall trend of modern day fashion photography?
I’m not sure it does, I can’t say. I’ve never had my finger on the pulse of modern fashion or pop culture. I hope that there is a place for what I do in the modern art world. I try to use social media to show my work. I don’t think I’m great at it but I try. I’m doing a gallery show with this series in the summer, hopefully the first of many!
Your work is very dark, both emotionally and physically. Is there a meaning or reason behind the tone?
I think it’s important to be comfortable with darkness. Without darkness there would be no light. That’s true of everything, it’s about balance. There’s a lot of beauty in dark things.
For me this project has been an escape from my life. In the good times, a celebration of creativity and the wonderful people who help me create each image, and in the bad times, a way for me to channel my energy and escape from the bad into the Taiga, a world I created in my head.
Like I say in the project description, nature is more powerful than any one person. It’s humbling. That humbling feeling can be terrifying, or it can be freeing. It’s up to you.
You mentioned this series was inspired by European Fairy tales. Which tale would you say you pull the most inspiration from and why?
So the original story of the rock opera “Hazards of Love” was meant to take sort of archetypal folk tale characters and tell a sort of twisted story of their doomed love. When I read that it sparked the idea of using elements of folk costume in my work. I am especially drawing from slavic tradition, as I think you will see with some of the clothing I am making right now for the shoots in the spring.
It started with the “Cranberry Witch” character, the first photos I did for this series (in a Cranberry Bog, read about that here!) Where I made her a headdress inspired by a Ukranian vinok.
You make all the clothes for this shoot? How long does it take?
Yes! Everything worn by the characters in the photos is completely handmade by me. I start from scratch making each piece. I start by sketching silhouettes and little details. I learned to sew while I was in school by replicating historical garments in my free time so I tend to be very inspired by historical garments from Europe and Asia specifically.
How do you conceptualize what you want the clothes to look like?
I like to work on a series around a story because I find any art that tells a story fascinating. The first full collection I did was based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Now that I take the photos myself as well, I design the clothes specifically with a photo in mind. That means a lot of the clothes are cumbersome or impossible to be worn in “real life”, like the Winter Witch’s skirt which is about 4 feet too long, or the Queen’s gloves made from real tree branches.
About half of the clothes I have made for the Taiga are made for specific “characters” from the story that inspired the project, and the others are characters that I have created to fit into my own imagination and my own version of the world that makes up the entire project.
For example, the Cranberry Witch is a character I came up with while driving through the south shore towards Cape Cod.
The project started out 4 years ago when I was listening to the Decemberist’s ‘Hazards of Love’. The album is a concept album that combines many folk tale archetypes into a story of doomed love. The thing that drew me to the story was this sense of doom, and the overall sense that nature is more powerful than all of us. In fact, the most powerful creature in the whole story is a part of the forest herself, made of tree branches. She is a character I had a really fun time creating, and can be seen in “The Queen” and “Her Domain”
I have worked in the past in theater doing costumes and the stuff I design for the Taiga is done in a very similar way to that. I sketch a lot. What I’m really looking for in a sketch is the silhouette. From there, I source fabric and drape each garment to a dress form.
From an outsider perspective, your work seems very primal and yet has royal and medieval aspects. Would that be right? How do you achieve this balance between two very different themes?
Thank you! I get so wrapped up in my own head that it’s always really interesting hearing feedback from people viewing my work!
I would guess that the “primal” emotions you’re getting from the pieces comes from what I was talking about earlier, the connection with Mother Nature as this humbling force. I love designing characters that are beautiful but fierce, especially my female characters. Alexander McQueen once said “I want people to be afraid of the women I dress”. I love that.
The more refined details are things I picked up from the historical clothing and couture designers that inspire me!
You had mentioned that the series “The Taiga” reflects ‘destructive love…’ to a ‘rebirth’. Is there a specific order these pieces are to be viewed? Is the work guiding use through the theme from piece to piece or is each a whole story in its entire image.
Yes, there is a specific order that the series is supposed to be viewed in and the passing of time is something I’ve been very conscious of throughout the series. I am planning to shoot in every season. So far I shot in early and late autumn, winter and plan to do another midwinter shoot, with the main bulk of the series being shot in the spring. It’s funny to be answering questions about it before these significant images are shot, because I know exactly how I want them to look, but no one else does!
I plan to make the final series into a photo book, which should be sometime later this year!
Which is your favorite from the series?
The ones I am in the process of working on right now! They don’t exist yet, only in my head. Those are always my favorite.
Are there any artists or designers who inspire you? How did they influence you? Did they influence the series at all?
I mentioned Alexander McQueen. I think he’s my biggest influence as a designer. All of his collections tell a story.
As I get more into photography, I am learning about the work of photographers who do sort of similar things to me. I like people who take editorial fashion to a creative way, and people who build sets and costumes for their photos.
What kinds of reactions do you think your art gets? How do you feel about that?
Mostly people are shocked that I make all the clothes, and that we do the smoke and special effects live. I don’t photoshop the images beyond basic color correcting.
Honestly I think that people tend to like the more classically “pretty” images best, the ones of pretty girls in dresses, or ones that look more like traditional fashion photos, but that’s ok. I don’t expect every person to like all of my work.
My wish for this series is that it affords people a little bit of the escapism it has given to me. And that it sparks imagination.
Last question: Is that a real skull, and if so, do you still have it or do you let the models keep the clothes??
Ha! It is a resin cast of a deer skull! I actually had to use a dremel and shave off the back of the skull to have it rest properly on the models head – it was still very hard to balance, that was a stressful shoot!
I don’t give the clothes away, as a lot of them are the product of 50+ hours of hand work, and I am going to be showing them off in a runway show, and actually show some of the costume pieces in the gallery show of the photographs as well!
Mae can be found on instagram @maehorak and her website is maehorak.com
Andy Conley is one of the founders of Boston Visual Artists and has been working as a Boston photographer for the past few years.
Is there a unifying theme in your work?
Honestly and Progress. I am still learning A LOT and I meet people every time I am out that teaches me something new. I don’t think their is a unified theme like gender or race. Its more of a personal theme of constantly pushing myself to try something and being as honest in my art as possible.
Is there a personal meaning to any or all of your photographs?
It depends on the shoot. Some are more personal and address something that affects me. I have a lot of anxiety and depression and planning a photograph around that can be very therapeutic.
Other shoots ‘meaning’ is just to bring me happiness and to challenge myself to be better than the last time. I love the act of shooting and lining up an image in camera. Knowing you walked away with a great portrait. Its especially exciting when the model and myself get along well and have good creative chemistry. Thats when Ill shoot like, 500 shots. I also use photography to remind myself I still have a fun imagination lol. Coming up with an idea I know no one else probably has.
How do you plan out a shoot? Are there poses, compositions or scenes you plan out beforehand?
Usually it starts with a theme. I have something I want to say but 9 times out of 10 do not know how I will do it. I sit on that idea for a while and slowly build the “set”. With these types of shoot I will think about it so much that by shooting day I have everything so figured out I can basically take 1 shot and have my image. Images like “Hulk Hands” and “Monkey Nipples” have started that way.
When it comes to just portrait shoots, I am a bit more cavalier. I will just invite someone over and begin shooting. I don’t know what I want but will know the moment I get the shot. Too me, its all in the eyes. I will hold a camera on a posing model, looking through the view finder, and simply sit there, not shooting, until I see the look I am going for. It can take a moment but you can usually notice when a model finally lets their guard down and really LOOKS at the camera. Going into it, maybe I’ll have an idea for one or two poses but then its all shooting from the hip.
How did you start as a photographer? Do you have any specific artists who inspire you?
I started in high school! My familiarity with photography and the art goes back some time. My father was a hobby photographer and we had a dark room and an enlarger when I was really young.
When I finally reached high school I took photography as an elective and fell in love with it. We shot on film so I would get to do the whole process of getting it developed and found I was quite the natural at it. All the people in class would have me roll their film and I would give small instructions to people who weren’t listening while the teacher spoke. I ended up skipping gym class all year and would just go to the dark room to develop. My gym teacher wouldn’t care and would mark me ‘present’. I got a 100 in gym AND photography. Now that I type this answer, I am seeing how weird it is that they grade you in gym…
As for specific artists, I have a few that really spoke to me. Of the greats; Alfred Stieglitz – I mean, The Steerage is considered one of the greatest photographs ever taken, you gotta give him credit obviously. Richard Avedon is another that, in my practice, I discovered and fell in love. He’s one of the greats so I don’t need to say much about him. His portraiture is some of the best taken. He was able to capture his subjects emotions and capture honest images. The piece of his that SPECIFICALLY stood out to me was ‘Dovima with Elephants’. I must have spent hours just staring at that image.
As for new age artists. I really enjoy Nicholas Bruno. He is a current American photographer who is inspired by his night terrors and sleep paralysis. Maison Mètamose. She is a French tattoo artist that does a lot what she calls “organic poetry”. Its a very abstract and cubist form of art. Her ability to put her original pieces together on human skin is really incredible. She has a great use of negative space. I don’t know what it is about it, but I just love the coordinated chaos. Finally, Id say Ed Mason. He does live music photography, all black and white, and his images are more art than documentation. He’s able to create these brilliant images. Live photography is great because your subject is doing their complete own thing, and you have theatric lights that create a new scene every second. I recently got to do it and really enjoyed myself!
Do you consider yourself more of a studio photographer or on-location?
Definitely more of a studio photographer. I enjoy being outside and doing everything there. Its nice, but I find myself almost clueless to what I wanna shoot. In a studio I have complete control and usually have an image already in mind or have an easier time thinking on the spot.
Can you explain the meaning behind one or more of your photos (Monkey Nipples)
Monkey Nipples (MODEL: Leila Magnolia) was in limbo for a long time. That piece discusses censorship. We share 99% of our DNA with Chimpanzees and you can show them, male or female, in all their glory. You cant show ANY of a women’s nipple though. This is not new news to anyone. To me, that is purely the over sexualization of the female form. Everyones got nipples! What makes my nipples any more appropriate than a women’s? Their’s are actually far more useful. Women are told to cover up to protect… I don’t know, something. Young men? themselves? I forget what reason Evangelicals and GOP are telling people these days, but I assure you, its bullshit. My picture is basically a ‘fuck you’ to these censorships and groups demanding it. I don’t know if it means anything coming from me, a white male. BUT if I can bring some type of social questioning to someone that will be enough. It took a long time to get someone to shoot this with me and I am lucky that Leila was so badass and into the idea.
Hulk Hands (MODEL: Victoria Roisman) was another that I am very proud off. This one is supposed to be as random as it appears. A lot of photography today is very premeditated to appear ‘random’ and there are very trendy themes you always see. I was speaking with my friends about it one day and I joked that I might as well ‘have a women in underwear, eating a grapefruit, and wearing hulk hands’. Boom. I did it that next week. I did it to almost mock all those other people who just put someone in a trendy situation for likes. Have more to say than that! Or at least don’t put some inspirational bullshit in the caption, UGH!
Is there an overall theme you try to express in your work, or does it change piece to piece?
It changes piece to piece. I wish I had the attention span to continuously shoot the same theme over and over. I have tried! Prisms. Black and whites. Femme fatales. Noir. Lifestyle. I just cant focus that much on one thing. Im too ‘A.D.D.’. I live a tornado-like life. Everything I own and think are spinning around me in utter chaos. My emotions ARE my sleeves. Everything I wanna say or do spins around me, ripping roofs off other peoples homes and occasionally I reach in and complete a project thats been spinning for a bit.
What is the weirdest thing you’ve done for a photoshoot (Or a good story)
Woooo good questions. I don’t know if I have any good stories. Besides probable trespassing charges that could be brought up with me. Ive covered people in paint and food. The models face when first seeing the backdrop I made for Monkey Nipples was funny. The one I have coming up is honestly probably the weirdest. I cant say much about it but I will say it involves a live duck!