I am honored to be interviewing so many talented and educated Latino photographers. Each in their own way is a rock star, an intellectual and an artist. But always distinctly — Latino. And what category does Latina photographer Maria Martinez-Cañas fall into? The rock star, the intellectual and the artist. Why — because she is all of them.

Interview

You were born in Cuba and 4 years later your family moved to Puerto Rico, by the way of Miami. In retrospect — nearly 50 years later — do you think that move was integral to you becoming a photographer?

maria martinez-cañasI don’t know if the move itself was integral in me becoming a photographer, but I absolutely believe that the importance of the photographic image to my parents as a ‘memory link’ to their homeland was a defining aspect in my life. Photographic images were a way to connect with family members, to know our roots, to know about Cuba.

You began your photographic viaje at a very young age — 8. You started capturing images with a Polaroid Swinger camera. Was that your “Ah Ha! Moment?” When you knew that you would now dedicate your life to photography?

I didn’t know when I started using a Polaroid Swinger camera that I would ended up working with the medium. The magical aspect of creating an image or seeing the image develop in front of my eyes was so amazing that I wanted to take pictures all the time. I am a very curious individual so I started involving myself more and more into photography, the cameras, the different films, etc etc. Also, having parents that were art collectors and loved art, also helped, as they supported me all the way…

Puerto Rico also gave me an identity – as Latina…

You spent the better part of your youth in Puerto Rico. Photographer Carlos Rubin speaks about how Aguirre inspires him. Is there some small place in Puerto Rico that inspires you?

maria martinez-cañasEl Yunque [the rain forest] – that was my most magical place in PR. The countless hours just walking and looking at nature – the sounds, the vegetation. I was captivated by the glorious aspect of that place. Puerto Rico also gave me an identity – as Latina, as someone who grew up surrounded by water, in a tiny island, and I loved the happiness of the people, the warmth they have.

Do you remember your first solo museum exhibition? “María Martínez-Cañas: Photographs.” For you, was that a feeling of major accomplishment? Or did you feel like your journey has only begun?

Oh yes, I remember the show very well, at the Museum of the University of Puerto Rico – it opened in January of 1983 – and yes, it was a great sense of accomplishment but I also knew that I had just started my artistic journey. The artworld was very different then, this immediacy that we have today with emails, cell phones and social media was non-existent. As a young artist, I always knew things were going to take time and a lot of effort but I was ready for it, because this is what I love to do. This is my passion.

… more important than talent is to have discipline as an artist. It is crucial to work on your work everyday.

There are many young Latinas photographers like Arlette Landestoy and Karen Miranda who are producing beautiful bodies of work. What advice can you give these young Latinas and others like them — on how to turn their passion for photography into a career?

There are two things that I feel are necessary to believe in:

  1. That more important than talent is to have discipline as an artist. It is crucial to work on your work everyday – even if nothing inspire you or you are in ‘stuck’ mode… We need to be in the studio working.
  2. Find a way to create what I call a ‘second skin’.

So when the phone doesn’t ring, the curators or media are not paying attention, when sales are not happening, – that we continue to work on our work, on our passion, no matter what… because at the end, this is what is important and who we are.

Call To Action

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I would never say that you must begin your photographic career at 8. In order to achieve the success that Maria Martinez-Cañas — has achieved. But I will echo what Cañas stated, “It is crucial to work on your work everyday.”

In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers he explains how it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master. Both Gladwell and Martinez-Cañas profoundly understand the importance of working your trade to become very good at it.

So approach each day as a learning experience and work at it — everyday.