Maria Rio is a Toronto-based photographer who came to Toronto at age 9 as a refugee from Mexico. She first got into photography “by accident,” taking photos with her IPhone and just got really into it. She actually built her account of 50,000 followers without any equipment at all.
I spoke with Maria about the connection between her day job, working for a non-profit in donor relations, and her passion for photography.
Do you find photography to be meaningful work?
My photography has always been more a thing of self-expression for me. I feel that I have more of a direct impact in my day job. But, lately, with my photography, I’ve been trying to add more depth and feeling to my captions where before I used to only do funny puns or write a few words.
It felt shallow, and it wasn’t enough for me — not saying that anyone who does that isn’t putting enough in — but I just wanted to include more of myself with an image, because that’s how I see the world.
And how have people responded to that?
Some people don’t like it. But a lot of people do, and they say they can relate to it. Like I’ll talk about having really bad anxiety, for example, and someone will connect with that, and that helps me feel like I am taking that step towards having an impact.
I can also do a lot with my photography meet-ups, like last year we did one with 60-100 photographers and the whole thing was free, which they usually aren’t.
Would you say there's a lot of impact someone can have at your stage with photography?
Yeah, once you have a big following, you have a bigger reach, and there’s a lot you can do. A community event that has a ton of people can have sponsorship, so you can then offer them for free. Most meet-ups are really expensive, and people can’t afford them, but with this, everyone ends up collaborating — it’s a win for everyone.
So, if you don’t like the way meet-ups are, just do your own?
Exactly. Whoever runs the meet-up creates the vibe. So, if I run my own I can make them in line with what I believe. I can choose the types of models we have, we can make sure there's diversity instead of the one kind of look you see on Instagram.
Actually, there was this one girl who has a disability and had been turned down by a bunch of photographers, so I decided to choose her as a model for my meet-up. She got a ton of exposure and even signed a contract after that.
That's awesome. What would you say is the one thing you wish someone starting out could know?
Be humble. That’s it. It doesn’t matter if you have 15 years or 2 months experience, just sit down and be humble. I try to live in a positive environment always — just have fun, take your photos, do your modeling, and enjoy it. That’s it.
Oh, and your equipment isn’t the be-all end-all. You don’t need expensive gear to be a good photographer. Just be true to your style, whatever that is.
Maria's photography is going to be featured on billboards around the city as public art. You’ll be able to spot them between Shuter & Queen. Check her out on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mariaa.rio/?hl=en