As FAME photographer, Maria has taken pictures that FAME have used in our past two issues and this past Friday she was busy taking more. ALBERT SHARRA engages her in this interview to learn more about her life story and photography dream.
What influenced your career choice and how has it been so far?
I am a very visual person and although my work since leaving school has been as an editor, I found myself drawn to the work of graphic designers that I often worked with. I envied their position of selecting images and colours and having a say in the way a product should turn out, so I always ended up assisting in the image choices, either by providing or suggesting. I have always enjoyed looking at photographs and got my first camera when I was 12. It was very basic, but the excitement of having my roll of film returned to me, trumped all the excited feelings I felt at that age. I became serious about photography when I was living in Thailand (2005-2010) Ã¢â‚¬â€œ I got a taste of the fast, sharp images produced from a professional digital camera and I saved up for my first entry-level camera, which I bought 4 years ago. It changed my world! I started to see beauty in the most mundane things, such as a clear, full glass of water sitting on a table at a certain time of day when the light was magical, romantic even. I had to capture it.
Did you study photography? How have you improved in your work?
I have not studied photography, but I do a lot of research. Being a photographer is just in me – I was born a visual artist, and although I took some time to decide on this as a livelihood option, I cannot imagine doing anything else at this point in my life. I have become more confident in myself as a photographer and thus my work improves with each session or project I am involved in. I am inspired by everything around me.
Did your family or peers object to your career choice?
It took a while for my parents to realise how serious I was about changing my career direction and focusing on something that I was more passionate about than anything. But they have seen me progress and are proud of the steps I am taking to become the person I want to be in this arena. I have their full support and I could not ask for more.
What does your work entail?
I specialise in portrait photography. I really enjoy spending time one on one with the people I take pictures of and prefer to meet them in their own surroundings. I find that it puts people at ease and brings out their very essence when they are in a familiar place where they feel comfortable and relaxed. This type of work requires patience, flexibility and a good sense of humour Ã¢â‚¬â€œ sometimes you have to take a shot multiple times to achieve a certain vision. For the Fame Lilongwe Wildlife Centre shoot, the river was freezing, but we all got our feet wet. Besides, it is easier to have options.
How did you get involved with Fame?
I am a member of CREAM Women in the Arts and when I met Zilanie [Gondwe] earlier this year, she told me about the upcoming show and the need for quality visual documentation and for professional portfolios for the winning model and designer. I was very interested but unsure as to when I would be back in Malawi next, as I was working as a consultant at the UN office in Ethiopia at the time, but we kept in touch and when I returned in July, I was immediately involved in the organisation process and it has been non-stop ever since.
What do you enjoy most about working with Fame?
The excitement never ends! Each conversation, meeting, e-mail, or text message is filled with ideas, so many ideas. Some we latch onto and develop, while other ideas are put on the backburner, stored, so to speak, for future reference. You just never know what the next day will bring and that keeps us all on our toes. We feed off of each otherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s energy in a positive way.
How do you look at the future of professional photography?
It is very bright if those interested in becoming professionals take that extra step in bettering themselves. The equipment that was once available solely to professional photographers has become more affordable and is targeted to professional and beginner photographers alike. It is a very expensive profession though; you certainly get what you pay for as far as equipment is concerned (lenses, flashes, batteries, etc.). But for someone just starting out or someone who is casually interested, there are so many affordable semi-pro cameras that allow them to experiment without making a huge commitment. There is nothing worse than spending vast amounts of money on gadgets that you will never use.
Should we expect more women into this career in the near future?
I hope to be a role model for women in Malawi who are interested in pursuing a career in photography. There are so many creative and ambitious women in this country and there are endless opportunities to be taken advantage of. I would love to be a resource person and to provide a positive female perspective to this largely male-dominated field.
Where did you grow up?
My parents moved to Ethiopia in 1982 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ my father was working for the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and my mother for the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca). I went to boarding school in Kenya and to university in the US. Those were my formative years.
What dreams did you have as a child?
When I was around 7, I decided that I would be a doctor because I loved the idea of being a Ã¢â‚¬ËœhealerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ of sorts. As I grew, it dawned on me that those dreams would not come to light because academically I was weak in sciences and mathematics. I was far better in creative subjects and was always at the top in my Arts classes. Then I wanted to be a fine artist (painter), but as therapeutic as I found that to be, I also got bored quite easily. Then I wanted to be a news anchor, but the idea of being in front of a camera makes me so nervous. Then I wanted to be a fashion designer, and I am not letting go of that dream. I will do it.
How did your parents and the people around you mould you into what you are today?
My mother is the strongest and most surprising person I know. She keeps her head up even in the most difficult of circumstances. From her, I gain confidence, a strong sense of self and an unbreakable spirit. My father and I are like the same person: we are calm, we are temperamental, we are sensitive to the feelings of others, and we do not crack under pressure. This has helped both in my work and in life in general.
What is your life philosophy?
Enjoy what you do! If you are not happy with a particular situation that you maybe in, take steps towards changing it. It starts with you. If you are going in the right direction, nothing can stop you. And there is nothing wrong with reassessing, be it a career decision, relationship, etc.
What is it that you do when you get some Ã¢â‚¬Ëœalone timeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢?
I am a magazine junkie, especially fashion magazines. I have my titles that I buy every month and I spend hours flipping through the glossy pages, finding inspiration and mostly trying to imagine an effortless existence where I can wear even the most unforgiving latest trends. It is a sweet escape from the rigours of daily life.
Is there anything about you that people donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know?
I think that most people donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t realise that I am shy. Very. The Maria most people meet is super friendly, super confident and super in general. But if you put me in a situation where the spotlight is solely on me, I just want to run and hide.
Do you have any regrets, any things you would do differently if given the chance to live life over? What are these?
Nothing that cannot be fixed with a little retail therapy, ha! ha! I try and keep a positive attitude towards life and to acknowledge that you can change things to suit you at any time. Focusing on negative situations can have devastating effects if you allow them to.
What are your plans for the future?
Professionally, I am focusing 100 percent on my photography career and see myself attending courses in the coming year and updating my skills on a regular basis. I wish that such courses were more widely available in Malawi and I plan to make that happen, so my main goal in career development is to be able to eventually provide photography classes and workshops here that are accessible to anyone with a keen interest. I will also open a studio/office in the near future that will give clients direct access to me and my work, as well as provide printing and graphic design services.
What is your take on key challenges facing Malawian women?
I think that there is a need for women in Malawi to maximise their resourcefulness and all around fabulousness. They need to be encouraged to expand on their ambitions. It is definitely not a lack of opportunities, because people are constantly evolving and it is possible to get from bottom up if you are determined. go ahead and fly your unique flag Ã¢â‚¬â€œ do not let fear or Ã¢â‚¬ËœnsanjeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ hold you back.
Do you have any ideas on how to tackle them?
I believe that creating partnerships with like-minded people opens up a world of possibilities. The sharing of ideas and information is essential. The idea of keeping to oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s self professionally and not wanting to work with others is very limiting. Freedom of expression must definitely be encouraged and not taken for granted.
Ã¢â‚¬â€MARS Photography Facebook fan page: http://www.facebook.com/MARSTHUNDU
Maria gets personal
Born in Lilongwe on July 16, 1978.
She is the third born in a family of four, now three.
She had a brother, Daniel and two sisters, Nena and Sophia.
Daughter of Hon Anita Thundu (MP Likoma Island) and Justin Thundu
Holds a BA English – University of Charleston, West Virginia, USA
She cannot do without laughter.