Maria Louceiro mixes analog and digital photographic techniques to create a trippy, dreamlike world.
Looking at Maria Louceiro’s photographs, you’re transported to another place. Mysterious, multicolored light and color soak up the frame. Within a few seconds of staring, it’s as if you can almost feel and hear them.
For more than a decade, the Berlin-based photographer has photographed some of the world’s most exciting and innovative musicians. Most recently, these include Ladytron, Jpeg Mafia, Bjork, and Chromatics for clients including Pitchfork Media, Adobe, VICE, and Coachella. Often holding pieces of glass in front of her lens, she captures and communicates the aura of their music.
Originally studying mining and environmental engineering, Louceiro moved on to design and photography. She was drawn to the ways light and color could communicate mood and experience.
We caught up to learn more about her magical gaze.
The Luupe: You have a background in mining and environmental engineering. How did you come to work in photography and design?
Maria Louceiro: After finishing my degree in Mining engineering I was already planning to take on a more artistic route. I already experimented with photography but found that studying Communication Design would give me a different set of tools that could inspire me for photography. I also loved illustration (which was part of the Design degree) and love to mix different techniques.
The Luupe: Does that background influence how you photograph?
Louceiro: It was such a difficult course for me. It taught me a lot about overcoming difficulties, to persist and deal with what seems impossible at first to me (I was that bad at math and physics.)
The Luupe: What draws you to work with mystical, psychedelic hues?
Louceiro: I always had these images in my mind which I wanted to turn into paintings. Since I didn’t feel I was very good at that, I tried to transport that into images taken with a camera. From the time I was relatively young I would find different types of light would provoke very strong and different reactions in me.
While the winter light in Porto would bring a surreal and positive impression to my surroundings, the summer light brought me feelings of sometimes sadness but always a dreamlike state. The music I listen to also started later translating to a certain type of imagery in my head.
The Luupe: There is also an ambient mystical-ness to the musicians you photograph, mainly electronic music… Do you see music and sound influencing how you see?
Louceiro: Definitely. As said above, the music I listen to as well as the concerts I attend end up influencing how the images look. When I started photographing in Porto I was very much into Post-Rock. I feel my work ended up being much more hazy and ghostly than nowadays.
The Luupe: What are you listening to now?
Louceiro: These days I tend to listen to and go to a lot more electronic music concerts since I’ve moved from Porto to Berlin. I now tend to use stronger colors and though the haziness is still present, it is more faded compared with the past. I still keep nurturing that mystical side, no matter what type of music and light are a part of my life at any particular moment.
The Luupe: Do you have any interesting or unexpected anecdotes from a shoot or performance you’d like to share?
Louceiro: My first international gig in Sweden for Pitchfork at Sweden’s 2014 Way Out West festival was pretty chaotic. I’ve never had such a big assignment in a foreign country. So I was trying to schedule as many portraits as possible along with the live performances and one of the priority artists was Future.
At this point I didn’t know many of the artists and though I tried to research a bit beforehand, I had an intensive full time job as a designer that didn’t allow me so much time to prepare. It was pretty chaotic and I was lost between messages, calls and schedules while trying to figure out my way in the city. I had scheduled two portraits at similar times. One for Future and one for Holly Herndon which was also on my list.
Unfortunately I didn’t realize they would be far apart from each other, so I had to make a call: I chose to do a run to Holly Herndon and take her portrait (and figure later a time for Future.) To this day, this is one of my favorite pictures and when I became (and still am) a huge fan of Holly’s work, whenever I tell this story some people playfully act like I did the wrong choice, due to Future’s later fame, but I’ve never regretted it and would do the same choice all over again.
The Luupe: You often hold shards of glass and other surfaces in front of the lens when you are shooting. But a lot of it also happens in post. Can you tell us a bit about your process?
Louceiro: I do play with (literally) a thousand different objects to experiment with color and light reflection. When I do post processing it can either take 2 minutes. It all depends on the image and purpose.
Sometimes I only do small adjustments on Lightroom. Other times I feel inspired to play a bit more with editing in both Lightroom and Photoshop. Tweaking the colors, playing with texture and multiple exposures, treating the photo like my digital canvas.
The Luupe: You often mix analog and digital – how do you decide what to use and when?
Louceiro: I always loved analog but not always I could afford it. So I would jump from one to another until I decided to simply mix the two: experimenting with negatives, rephotographing them, printing and re-photograph the prints, and so on! Then, I would either do light adjustments, or go full on on Lightroom and Photoshop mixing the analog with the digital.
The Luupe: With so much of your professional photography being live music, is the pandemic shifting how you work professionally?
Louceiro: I have always been fully focussed on music photography – work wise. I also take landscape photos but mostly for personal projects which I am licensing to help make up for this past year. With the pandemic, I had to rethink if I wasn’t limiting work by focussing only on music, and also would it be interesting to explore other types of work such as fashion photography, branding, product…
Besides attending several meetings from The Luupe that gave me so many tools on how to approach other clients and photo editors, I also took a 6 week “course” with Art of Freelance which helped me a lot not only with developing my project but connecting with other photographers. Learning about and sharing our wins and struggles really made me feel less isolated and supported!
The Luupe: Oh, that’s great to hear! Is the pandemic impacting how you see and envision the world?
Louceiro: Work has always been my top priority and now I strive for a bit more balance by talking more often with my family, prioritizing mental health and nurturing the valuable connections I made with people, which a lot of them ended up fading away due to being so busy all the time.
The forced hiatus helped me re-evaluate a lot of things – mostly human connection. I feel it will take a good while for things to fully get back to their normal, but I do hope we can strive for a stronger connection with nature, between ourselves, and try to slow down the incessant chase of titles and productivity.
The Luupe: In a story for Communication Arts, you mention the work of Andrei Tarkovsky.
Louceiro: Tarkovsky is one of my favorite directors. His poetic approach sparks thousands of connections in your brain when watching his movies. He is a master of visual poetry and I love the juxtaposition of silence and noise; strong and delicate. This is something that I strive for and would love to consistently achieve with photos. When I was living in Porto I attended a lot of metal concerts (like Cult of Luna, below.) I was really happy when I was able to create dreamy, delicate pictures from those shows.
The music and aesthetic might be quite strong and even considered aggressive at times, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t moments of grace, stillness and otherworldliness present. The same happens here in Berlin when a few Techno djs/ producers ask me specifically for a more poetic or dreamy approach for their press shots. That makes me very happy.
The Luupe: What else is inspiring you these days?
Louceiro: Lately, I have been watching a lot of movies from the 80’s. My latest obsession is Decoder, a 1984 movie directed by Muscha. I am fascinated not only with the plot but also the sounds, colors, patterns and textures of this movie. It includes a lot of artists that I liked for so long, plus it’s very cyberpunk! Apart from music, movies are definitely my biggest influence.
The Luupe: As the world shifts, what are you looking forward to creatively in the coming months, year, etc?
Louceiro: I am looking forward to experimenting a lot more with my work in other areas of photography, and who knows, other mediums. Trying to adapt, mix, and investigate new ways of doing things in a more deep and mature but playful way!