Rfotofolio had the pleasure of viewing Mary Aiu’s work last year. The screen does not do it justice. Thank you Mary for sharing your work and time with us.
Would you tell us about yourself?
I am a California native and live on a ranch in a beautiful part of Northern California with an array of animal friends. My life was greatly influenced by my father, a second generation cattle rancher, so I grew up around ranching, horses, and the love of the land. After high school, I pursued my dreams of artistic visions and attended the California College of the Arts, receiving a BFA with a concentration in Photography and Ceramics.
Fast forward through the next 20+ years: career, mother, wife, and later, helping manage my father’s cattle ranch, were responsibilities that took precedence over my need to create. Despite my background in the arts, I never felt comfortable being called an artist, as I felt there was a great deal of grunt work yet to do, to master the materials and the connection of the medium with my inner self. So without the luxury of time to devote to refining craft, I just dabbled.
However, in the back of my mind, I felt that someday, my time would come – which it did. My earlier background was in analog, and much had changed in the world of photography as I knew it. Choosing whether to embrace the digital world did not come easy, as I found the technology mind boggling. Nonetheless, I found the digital tools intriguing, and I do find rewards in working beyond the initial camera capture, as they allow me to speak on a different level through my work. Did I go to the other (dark) side? Well, I do love the umbrella over photography now, and does it really matter how we got there, if the work is compelling.
How did you get started in photography?
It wasn’t until the summer after my high school graduation that I took a course in photography and really got to experience the medium. I enjoyed how it got me out and about to connect with my ideals of beauty and emotional connections.
Did you have a mentor?
I feel my life as a photographer has taken two journeys. In my earlier life of view cameras and darkrooms, I did not have a mentor, other then what inspiration I found through the pages of books and in galleries. Today, there is still not that one mentor but rather, I enjoy the sharing of images, knowledge, and fellowship that comes with being a member of the ImageMakers of the Monterey Peninsula.
Do you mentor?
For 20 years I was a teacher of the visual arts, and I hope in those years that I made a difference; but to be thought of as a mentor would be astounding. I found teaching to be challenging, and it was fulfilling to lead students to explore finding their own creativity. However for me, if time spent in my classroom had planted the seed in someone to pursue their creative self through a visual medium during their lifetime, then that’s reward enough. On a personal level, I have had people tell me my photographic work is inspiring, and I can’t think of a greater compliment than that.
Which photographers and other artists do you admire?
Many! I admire numerous photographers from my contemporaries to the classics, and images with an ethereal quality are eye catchers for me. I am also drawn to photographers who create imagery reflecting the beauty derived from the natural world, especially those that include animals. As an avid lover of animals and all things nature, I’m especially drawn to a quote by Jane Goodall: “The Greatest Danger to our Future is Apathy.” While there has been a turn-around with some endangered species and environments, there will always be a fight to guard what is precious. With knowledge comes worth, and as visual storytellers, I think photographers can make a difference. With that said, if I were to select one photographer that I admire, it would be Nick Brandt. I greatly love his work with elephants, and if I could spend a day with any photographer, it would be him.
Would you share with us an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time?
I have two that particularly stand out. I would say the first image that influenced my love of photography long ago was Paul Caponigro’s “Apple, New York City,1964.” I remember being struck by how powerful the image was, and then realizing, oh wow, it’s an apple! It was transforming to see the wider reality in something so simple as an apple.
The second would be Wynn Bullock’s “Child on Forest Road.” That image transcends the wonder of it all! I have an affinity for trees, and I can envision myself as that child walking along among those trees.
What makes a good day for you creatively speaking?
First off, I love the excitement of opening a memory card and seeing what I have captured for the day. I would describe it as pure joy. Second would be the day that I have a rich, final print in my hands after spending days working on a composite piece. I am my own worst critic, but when all is said and done, if it is something I would hang on my own wall, it’s a score.
What draws you to working with horses?
I have always felt that if you’re passionate about your subject matter, it will show through in your work. A few years ago, I made a decision to choose a subject that would lend itself to becoming a body of work. Having great admiration for the horse and being an owner of a couple of them myself, the subject choice was an easy one. From photographing partnerships and interactions we have with the horse under-saddle, to finding beauty or story within a portrait, this journey has led me to an even deeper understanding and love for the horse. But what really pulls on my heart strings is to be able to witness through my camera the unbridled beauty of the horse in motion. It’s as if I were watching a dance, with each horse displaying their own unique flair of power or grace. It is so pure, watching a horse be a horse!
How did you come to photograph horses in a way that is from the horses point of view?
One cherished memory from my early childhood is of riding a horse under a canopy of oak trees. It was a magical experience, and I can still hear the rustling of the dry oak leaves under my horse’s hoofs and see the filtered light that defined the wondrous space under that blanket of trees. My collection of images “Among the Trees” relives that same sort of experience with the horse. In some images the artistic intent is to remove the boundaries that usually confine the horse and purposely take you along for the ride.
What challenges do you face as an artist?
Time! I don’t do well with distractions, so finding ways to devote long periods of time to work on ideas and images is the challenge.
How do you over come a creative block?
I spend a great deal of time behind the computer. So when things just aren’t working out, or I need a break, I head out alone with my camera with no preconceived ideas, just me, the place, and the moment. I find great joy in how the camera connects me to my environment in an intimate way, and usually a day spent this way is a good respite.
What is next?
Photographically, there are just too many horse stories and barns left unexplored, so there is still much left to do with the horse. However on the side, I have been photographing dogs. I find enjoyable stories there: with man’s, and yes, woman’s, best friend.
As far as exhibiting, currently I have ten images in a traveling group exhibit, “Wildlife Beyond Borders”, that finished up at PhotoCentral in Hayward in December, and will be moving on to San Jose in June with an opening at the Art Ark. This exhibit has been an interesting experience with my first involvement bringing Augmented Reality through the Aurasma App to the viewer. Through this app individual images come to life through a smart device, and play content created by the photographer. More information about the show can be found at Wildlife Beyond Borders.
To learn more about the work of Mary Aiu please visit her site at, Mary Aiu.
Thank you Mary for sharing your work and words with us.