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  • by Cece M. Scott

Patty Maher: Let me tell you a story

The practice of visual storytelling through photography involves many of the same components that a written story requires. Just as a writer needs to create an atmosphere in which to set out a story, so too does a photographic storyteller need to create the symbols, emotions, and mood that tell the story through images.

The challenge of telling a story with a single image and having viewers relate and connect to it is one that Patty Maher loves to explore in the boundaries between real life and the otherworldly, surreal, and fantastic. In her photo “She Carried Her Dreams,” Maher evokes the everyman’s experience of failed dreams. “The title of that photo goes a long way to evoke the concept, but also the posture of how [the subject] is holding on to the suitcase — keeping it close and holding it with a very firm grip, kind of how people hold on to their dreams. It is an example of me nudging the viewer to understand a message, where the suitcase is symbolic of something where dreams are held, and that when they ‘escape’ or don’t work out, it is a matter of waiting and calling on new dreams to come. I think anyone who has lived has had the experience of dreams not working out, and I think it’s important to have the ability, as humans, to create new dreams and goals in light of that,” Maher says.

Maher, who is fascinated by the deeper, more intangible elements of life, works purposefully to include a sense of mysticism in her storytelling. Her images — ethereal, solitary, isolated, and wistful — have a dark and supernatural aura to them, as though they are “always present, wafting their way in, in some form or other.” While Maher believes that these darker emotions are a part of the human condition, she also likes to portray a sense of hope and beauty in her stories to uplift them. Maher took up photography a mere five years ago. She got her start in conceptual photography (the illustration of ideas through pho