Maya Fuhr doesn’t want you to smile for the camera. The 27-year-old Toronto photographer, who’s shot everyone from Anna Wintour to Metro Boomin to pretty much every cool creative in New York City (Petra Collins, Tavi Gevinson, Chloe Wise included), couldn’t care less about your smize. Because unlike Tyra Banks or most fashion photographers, she’s not interested in faking it.
“I’ve always thought it was weird, the pressure for people to be their best posed self or a smile-y version of themselves for a photograph,” she says. “Everyone’s always like ‘Smile!’ and I’m doing the exact opposite. I want to celebrate the natural awkwardness that we all have.”
Fuhr’s obsession with capturing the weird and wonderful sides of people and situations has become a signature of her work: her portraits often catch her subjects mid-blink or mid-pizza bite, and her fashion photography ranges from off-beat (in a lookbook for CMT, one model wears a long dress with a plastic bag over her head) to in-your-face alt (an editorial for Milk features a gangly, mustachioed subject wearing silk blouses and cotton bloomers). “I like to do the opposite of everything a fashion photograph should be doing,” says Fuhr. “Instead of a very pose-y shot, I like the model to look like they’re just in their natural position. Or instead of the model looking really confident, I like them to look kind of unguarded.”
For Fuhr, photography is less about getting the perfect shot than it is about the search for authenticity. Which is why she prefers to shoot on film. “I want to capture people—and life—in the rawest way possible,” she says. “I think film is more genuine in a way because it’s very hard to alter the image. It’s always in its most natural form.”
Fuhr received her first film camera as a birthday gift from her father when she was 18. “I got addicted to the whole process of waiting and the patience that it involves,” she says. “I loved the experience of taking the film out of the camera, bringing it to Shoppers Drug Mart, waiting a week, then picking it up and looking at the little thumbnails while at whatever random job I had. It was exciting.” She was living in Montreal at the time, having moved from her native Victoria, B.C., to study cinema at Dawson College. “Everyone in my course was making really script-heavy, cinematic short films, and I would just set up a continuous shot with no dialogue and maybe have someone walking in and out of frame,” she laughs. “I realized I wasn’t that interested in moving pictures and that I should just focus on photography and say it all in one image.”
Another signature is her soft, hazy colour palette. “I like to think of a photograph as a painting so it needs a lot of colour to be appealing to my eye,” she says. “I’m really good at seeing what colours suit my subjects and I think that’s what makes my photos so beautiful. They almost have an aura to them.” And while her dreamy pastel world may seem at times otherworldly, Fuhr’s intuitive point of view is very much rooted in her pursuit of realness. “When I was a kid my dad would always say that he doesn’t wear colours you wouldn’t find together in nature so I think, especially growing up in B.C. where everything is so lush and muted, I’m drawn to more natural hues.”
Not surprisingly, Fuhr’s approach is also led by pure intuition.“I don’t think my photos are traditionally well-framed,” she says. “you can tell I just frame it in whatever awkward way I want.” Which isn’t to say her work is haphazard. In fact, her devotion to film demands extreme attention to detail and a zen-like presence of mind. “Each photograph is technically $2 so you really need to plan out the shot before you take it, rather than just frivolously snapping,” she says. “I’ve learned to trust my eye and just capture the moment.” She pauses. “All I have to do is take one photograph.”