Wavepool – How would you describe your work? Do you consider yourself to be a documentary photographer?
Maggie Shannon – I’ve been asked this question before and always find it difficult to answer! I really don’t think that my work fits under any particular genre of photography. I would personally describe it as documentary but I think it’s a bit different than that. When I’m photographing, I want the moment to seem as real and intimate as possible but also convey a sense of strangeness or mystery. I think this mindset has translated to my portraits and what would be considered documentary work as well.
Wavepool – Can you talk more about the ways in which it might be different from traditional documentary photography?
Maggie Shannon – I think I’m too attached to my subject for it to be considered documentary and if there’s an opportunity to intervene or move something in the frame, I take it. Especially after the recent debate and drama with the World Press Photo contest, I don’t think my work fits under that definition.
Wavepool – Do you introduce mystery through the subject matter itself or the way in which you photograph? Do both play a part?
Maggie Shannon – I think the way I photograph plays the most important part. It’s hard to describe the act of shooting but I try to use light or catch off moments. Some of my favorite moments from portrait work have come from a person moving from one pose to another. I kind of love that first couple minutes of awkwardness when you first meet a person and you’re trying to make them feel at ease. The first photos of any person, even if they have experience, can feel so awkward. It’s kind of a weird dance of moving between making them feel comfortable in front of my camera but also getting a photograph I like or feel is unexpected.
Wavepool – Do you have any rules or advice that you remind yourself of when working?
Maggie Shannon – I’m a very shy person which is one of the reasons I started doing more portrait work and I really think it’s helping me break out of my shell. Despite this, however, I still get pretty terrified! So one thing I always remind myself before and during a shoot is that you as the photographer are responsible for making the person feel comfortable even if you aren’t. I think this pressure of being forced to act confident helps me feel more at ease.
Wavepool – Working in a new way, as you did with portraits, often seems highly intimidating and daunting but very valuable in the end. Why is failure important?
Maggie Shannon – I think that accepting failure is a really important part of my process. There are millions of ways things can go wrong when you’re shooting, both technically and emotionally too. Like the person isn’t in a good mood or just doesn’t like the images you’re making. That’s actually one thing I dislike about digital, that you can see the end product right away and the person you’re shooting can too! But I think that “failing” can also lead to beautiful images. Some of my favorite photographs have come dealing with an issue and being forced to make it work. I was recently photographing a musician for a project and she hated every photograph that had her face in the frame. So instead I shot her playing from behind and that image has become one of my favorites from that entire series.
I really believe that learning from you’re failures is what makes you a better photographer. I recently read a great interview with Karen Mullarkey who was a picture editor at Rolling Stone and Newsweek. She discussed how when she was meeting with photographers she always asked to see contact sheets so that she could see the mistakes along with successes. I really love that idea of seeing the whole process instead of just the images someone picks as the “best” ones.
Wavepool – What is the most memorable photograph you’ve seen? Why?
Maggie Shannon – This may sound kinda cheesy, but I think the most memorable photograph I’ve ever seen would have to be Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico by Ansel Adams. I remember going to see an exhibition of his work in Boston when I was in high school and being completely blown away. That show was really my first exposure to that type of work and I still treasure that moment and thank my high school teacher for giving us that experience. Even though I didn’t start to focus completely on photography until my second year in college, I think that seeing that photograph helped to start me down the path I’m on now.
To see more, please visit Maggie’s website.