All images by Mariana Cheoo. Used with permission.
“…I promise you, it’s a wonderful journey with yourself!” Those are the beautiful words of Mariana Cheoo. Still very fresh to photography, she’s working hard to find her voice while developing and exploring herself. Like many, the process of creation is allowing Cheoo to heal, fight depression, and cultivate self-love. In a very thoughtful and heartwarming interview, we look at a series of self-portraits that will encourage you to look closer at yourself.
Phoblographer: Let’s begin in the deep end. I read you got into photography to overcome internal issues. Can you tell us more about that and how you feel photography helped you during the process?
Mariana Cheoo: I started photography as a way of expressing my internal issues: Depression and anxiety, a statement as public as exposing myself completely naked, began to be softened – and it was initially scary. Depression has always been a big part of my life, and at the moment, anxiety is still part of my present.
At the age of 30, I came across a peculiar situation: I was in a long, loving relationship, I had a stable job, a house, I’d achieved things, but I felt a huge emptiness. I was dissatisfied with everything and felt a great need to throw everything out. Photography was my lifeline, almost like therapy for me. Devoid of prejudice, I felt free undressed when taking photos of myself, vulnerable to reality. I ended up getting to know a lot about myself.
Phoblographer: What is your opinion of yourself as a photographer?
Mariana Cheoo: The only people who should give an opinion in relation to my photography are those who appreciate my art – like you! Each opinion is different but everything you see is full of emotion. It’s pure. Photography allows me to tell stories, which may or may not be totally related to my life, but there’s always some piece of me in them.
Phoblographer: And what’s your opinion of yourself as a model?
Mariana Cheoo: I have had some people telling me that I should focus on just one of the roles, be either a photographer or model. But since I started photography, trying to find new ways to express myself, I used my body a lot, my image to do it. You are my diary, and often a photographer also needs to express himself/herself.
“If you go back to the days of analog, Henri Cartier-Bresson or Saul Leiter did not edit the photos. They just photographed, and that was how they delivered the works: as they captured them—the authentic moment.”
Phoblographer: You’re a woman of several cultures: please talk to us about who you are and how you feel your identity helps shape your voice.
Mariana Cheoo: I am a woman of the world and I am grateful for that. Perhaps that is why I try to understand people better by their different cultures and perspectives. With photography, I learned to slow down and reflect on the problems of who I photograph. My work is like photo therapy.
Phoblographer: Your edits seem wonderfully minimal. Why is it important to you to deliver an authentic image without much work done in post-production?
Mariana Cheoo: As you can see in most of the work of other people, they use a lot of presets. This is not authentic and is losing a lot of their identity. I like to deliver work that’s more like real life. My goal is to do as little work as possible in post-production and try to control the settings of the camera itself. If you go back to the days of analog, Henri Cartier-Bresson or Saul Leiter did not edit the photos. They just photographed, and that was how they delivered the works: as they captured them—the authentic moment.
Phoblographer: Where do you feel most at home and why: in front of the camera or behind it?
Mariana Cheoo: Both. Although photographing is easier for me. I don’t have to control my poses and angles, and it’s usually more difficult to trust a photographer who has the same vision as me.
Phoblographer: Self-portraits push the individual to focus on their body. Can you describe if and how your relationship with your body has evolved since creating self-portraits?
Mariana Cheoo: Once a guy said to me: ‘Mariana, your vulnerability is the courage that many people would like to have.’ Taking photos of myself allowed me to know my imperfections, to know myself as a person, what my limits were and how far I could push myself. I use my body as an art form and the social network, if used wisely, is an important tool to promote it.
Phoblographer: Your portfolio suggests you have been shooting much longer than you have. Do you feel, in a way, you were already a photographer before you even picked up a camera?
Mariana Cheoo: I knew that I had a gift for something related to art, but it never crossed my mind that one day I would follow this path of photography. It happened very naturally and spontaneously. And I am flattered that you think I have been photographing for much longer. I don’t know the technical photographic part, I just know the basics. The only secret is that I feel a lot when photographing. I am a sensitive person.
Phoblographer: If photography was a person, and you could have a conversation with it, what would you say to it?
Mariana Cheoo: Thank you for not giving up or doubting any of my decisions. Thanks for trusting my intuition. Thank you for not being so demanding with me. And thank you for slowing me down when I doubted myself. You made me think of all that I have already achieved. If you taught me anything during the last atypical years, it is that tomorrow is uncertain. The only thing I know is this: I am you, your greatest passion and friend.
Mariana Cheoo is an artistic model and photographer based in Lisbon, Portugal. You can see more of her work by visiting her website and Instagram. For a deeper connection to her work, Mariana has asked that you listen to Alexis Ffrench – Moments as the same time as enjoying her work.