One of the great things about Miguel Maza’s adopted city of Galway is that it attracts people like Miguel – creative types with a story to tell. Folks from far-flung corners of the world come here to what Miguel describes as a “bohemian” town. Artists, musicians, writers all flock to this tiny city on the West coast of Ireland to try and pave their way in an often cruel, unstable field such as Miguel’s chosen profession: photography.
Born in Venezuela, Maza started work at age ten, doing graphic design and photography for various newspapers and agencies, eventually starting up his own company to do exactly that. Over time, the political and economic situation in Venezuela became too difficult to work in (inflation doubled prices in December and tripled them the following January!). So when he heard his cousin was shipping out to Canada, Miguel decided to follow suit, and an agent recommended Galway due to creativity and artistic endeavour being ingrained in its culture.
Media is a difficult field for a person to find their feet in, to get a decent foothold so they can get themselves off the ground. When asked how he accomplished such a feat, Miguel reveals: “It’s really unstable, to be honest. Basically, in the very beginning, you have to struggle a lot. And many photographers are struggling. I’d say it’s like everything nowadays; you get a camera and you think you’re a photographer and then you want to work as a photographer. The same as graphic design; somebody goes and learns Photoshop and they think they’re a graphic designer. And they go for it and that’s what’s happening in many markets right now.”
“many photographers are struggling”
When Miguel started here in Ireland, he was earning very little hard cash, just enough to survive: “It was hard, but I said ‘I’m not going to give up, I’m going to keep working’, and I started setting goals. I said, ‘this month, I need this amount of money’, and I worked to get that amount of money. Then I increased my goals every month and I started getting more money and more money and talking to people.”
Previously, Miguel did a lot of nightlife photography. But, he had to stop because he started getting panic attacks. He just couldn’t handle dealing with drunken people in pubs and clubs calling him a “fu***ing bastard”, and screaming at him to take a picture of them, but then turning around and demanding to know why he was taking pictures of them! So he stopped that particular line of work, and started doing more graphic design and advertising work. Da Roberta’s Ristorante in Salthill, Galway was a regular customer and he started doing a little more food photography. But, mostly, his income came from graphic design.
These days, he does more portrait, beauty and fashion photography and he says, “it’s going good now actually”. He even gave a portraiture workshop in N.U.I.G for the photography society and shot all the portraits for the Strictly Come Dansoc event at the college, as well.
Miguel loves people – a man who revels in conversation and meeting new characters. And he’s got a funny story about meeting people: at an event in Dublin with a friend, there happened to be a few ministers in attendance, including an Taoiseach Enda Kenny. However, Miguel had no idea who Kenny was! So his friend dared him to go up and talk to “the prime minister”, and Miguel, being a daring sort of chap, accepted. So up he goes with his camera, up to Enda, and takes a shot. They get to talking, for a full half an hour, getting along really well but Miguel had to excuse himself so he could go find the Taoiseach! He eventually found his friend and expressed his apologies: “I’m sorry, I couldn’t find the guy”, and his friend offered to introduce them. lo and behold, his friend, subsequently, introduces Enda Kenny – the man he had been talking to for a half an hour!
It’s this love of people that attracted Miguel to portrait photography, believing there is something beautiful in everyone. It’s this penchant for individuality that leads him to travel this fair green isle of ours, photographing faces to “show their awesomeness, their beauty”. For example, when people ask Miguel what’s his best picture that he has taken, he always picks one of a particular gentleman who has very low self-esteem. And he has photographed many people with similar issues. The Son of South America quotes a particular photographer, Peter Hurley: “I’m 90% therapist and 10% photographer”. Building up another’s self-esteem and improving the subject’s self image is as much a part of Miguel’s job as getting the perfect shot. And it’s, arguably, the most important part of his job.
“When I’m shooting, I don’t tell them, ‘this is a half an hour shoot, this is a one hour shoot’; I tell them, ‘we’re gong to be here for all the time we need for me to get your picture’”. Miguel says he could be there until 2:00 am in order to get the perfect picture! Describing himself as “very fussy, very perfectionist”, Miguel likes to do a great job. He relates a tale wherein he was training a girl to do a voice-over. 160 takes later he was finally satisfied! This persistence and ambition comes through in his consistently astonishing work.
“I love freedom. I have tried before to do a…9-5 type of job and I just can’t!”
Being a freelance photographer, Miguel takes full advantage of the creative liberties his profession allows. “I love freedom. I have tried before to do a like, 9-5 type of job and I just can’t!”. He is, however, quite content to follow directions when given them during commission work. “They hire me for my style, because they like my photography style. And that’s what they expect”.
Miguel studied Journalism at Universidad Católica Andrés Bello. Art and history – particularly the history of art – he says was very important to him. It was at University that Miguel had his first exhibition, where he learned “a lot about how to write, and how to talk to people, how to organise your ideas”, as well as collaborating with some of the university’s societies: graphic designs, photography and artistic advisor. But, he left college, despite feeling that it was a very good experience. One day, a drunken friend literally gave him a push and told him to start up his own business! And so he did. A visit to the register office was paid and Miguel was on his way.
On a minimal budget he started networking and getting the best advertising possible – word of mouth. The clients steadily came through the door, because they liked the fact that Miguel’s work was different. That, and while most companies offered one type of advertising to their customers, Miguel’s company offered five. “Also my graphic designs were different, they were not the exact same thing as everyone: a plain background and a picture got from the internet, No, I started getting photographers to take pictures of the business”. Despite not finishing the degree, a lot was learned.
And there’s bigger and better things on the horizon for this talented soul. His self-discipline and hard work has paid off, big time. “At the moment I am meeting lots of people, and actually building a big team of creative people: artists, hair stylists, wardrobe stylists, creative directors, art directors and retouchers as well. And, we’re planning to do big editorial photoshoot for magazines in London, New York, Toronto, L.A. What we’re planning right now is something like, really, really cool and I’m really excited to start shooting next week; a few really class photoshoots. It’s gonna be more fashion, more beauty, and my style is going to be a little more classic, go a little more painter-y style. It’s really really class”. So watch this space.
No doubt this guy is going to be a big name in the photography world, stay tuned!