Maela Ohana is a 28-year-old artist born in France who grew up in the mountains of southern India. She spent her childhood on the organic farm that her parents built from scratch, in an area known for its biodiversity and beautiful landscapes. Immersed in this environment, Maela develops her interest in our relationship with nature. She studied contemporary arts and painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice, Italy, and is now based in Montreal. Her projects focus on the theme of urban ecology. She is also the creator of art platform Archive Collective, and The Earth Issue, an offshoot bringing together environmental artists. Her photographs from Night Shade are a collection of botanical portraits.
What is your relation to photography?
While I was studying in Italy I worked for 2 years as a studio assistant to a very talented and inspiring Italian photographer, that was my first in-depth exposure to the medium. But my appreciation for the photographic craft only deepened 3 years ago when I was introduced to analog photography and learnt to develop film in a dark room. Although I believe that an interesting photo can be shot on any type of camera, film was a turning point for me in terms of how I approached my creative process. With digital I rely much more on post production, while on film everything is pared down to the basics - I’m forced to be more controlled, thoughtful and precise with every shot.
Ultimately I enjoy photography as a form of expression because I’m a curious person by nature, and photography is a very “outwards” discipline: it pushes you to explore your surroundings, essentially looking for things that interest you, and to spend time absorbing small details that would have otherwise been overlooked.
The direction my personal and curatorial work has taken over the past year has also sharpened my interest in photography as an applied form of engaging with the natural environment. It’s motivating to witness and take part in a growing collective of environmentalist artists using their creative expression to pay homage to the beauty of nature and at the same time to call attention to pressing issues which threaten its long term conservation.
Your series Night Shade is a collection of plants photographed by night, tell us more about your approach
I started this collection of what I call “botanical portraits” while I was in Mexico at the beginning of this year, and continued it in India and Montreal. The approach is a little different from regular landscape photography, because of the limited light conditions, which force me to focus on a single plant, a detail, or a small, abstracted portion of a landscape.
“Photography […] pushes you to spend time absorbing small details that would have otherwise been overlooked”.
I set my alarm to correspond with the “magic hours” of dusk and dawn, the brief half an hour in the day when the light is changing and everything is suddenly enveloped in a supernatural hue. During this time I look for “strange plants” – usually ones that have an unusual form, or that interact with architectural elements in an interesting way.
I found the instinctual nature of this project very fulfilling – nothing could be planned or predicted as the environmental conditions were completely erratic (some mornings the sky would turn completely purple, other mornings the landscape would be covered in fog, etc…). All I could do was walk in a direction chosen by my gut and pay attention, the rest was at the mercy of the elements.
I see Night Shade as part of a larger ongoing project as most of my series are. I’ll be back in Mexico for a month this February and plan to develop it with many more images and some writing on the botanical ecology of Oaxaca state.
Enjoy her work on her website.