The beautiful symbiosis between a photographer and a photographer/model

When we first published the work of Mariana Cheoo in the October 2020 edition, we were impressed by the delicacy of her portraits, the intimate approach and the extraordinary use of the available light. When we realized that Mariana feels just as comfortable behind a camera as in front of it, we immediately had an idea. Choosing one of her most recent photoshoots, in which Mariana was not the photographer but the model, we thought that a “four hands” piece would be quite interesting to read. We launched the challenge to Mariana Cheoo and the photographer Rafael Malvar to report their personal experiences from this particular photoshoot. And we could not have been more gratified with the result, which we are pleased to share with you. We hope you enjoy it.

Many thanks to Mariana and Rafael for responding to this challenge!
Maurício & Hugo
Co-founders and editors of the Fuji X Passion project

This is a unique article between two photographers that found each other in a lost road (for a deeper reading to better understand this connection, listen to ‘Bon Iver – Re: Stacks’ music while you go through this).

Mariana Cheoo
You must have seen Mariana Cheoo walking in the middle of the autumn season, in the October 2020 Magazine.

A born artist, she became Miss Engineer to the delight of her parents. Today, she thanks: the degree taught her how to cope with business skills.

She survived too long to do something she did not like, until, after a long trip through Southeast Asia and completing thirty years of life, she decided to grab an object she had never dreamed of gaining interest in: a camera. What started as a hobby has become an oxygen pump.

Without any photographic experience, the process of self-portraits emerged in a fluid way, helping her to fill internal issues and to be natural in front of the cameras. She feels and works with emotion.

She received invitations to be photographed by others, but she quickly realized that it was behind the lens where she felt happier and more fulfilled.

Versatile, she photographs outdoors as well as indoors, but the last one is becoming more recurrent as she always liked to be out of her comfort zone. She can play with the lights and shadows that each environment offers to her, just with the camera in hand. Her technique lies in patent observation, intuition, and an enormous capacity to visually absorb the world around her. She photographs how she feels.

Storyteller and born artist, her photography without exaggerated editing has always been a hallmark of Mariana, with no recurrence in the world of trends. The partnership with Rafael took place at a time when she needed to express her feelings that kept her in a constant anxiety box.

Despite her type of photography being completely different from his, she let herself be carried away by her intuition, believing that the result would surpass in every way. The proposal and ideas in her mind were spoken in a fluid way, as if they were longtime friends. From the ideas for the photoshoot itself, it was in an instant. Getting caught by Rafael’s camera was emotionally draining, but also comforting and rewarding as well. A rare and beautiful symbiosis.

After that photo session, the shiver down the spine was a constant, her emotions had been so well portrayed in each photograph captured by Rafael that she dropped tears of serenity. All the expectations were exceeded for both sides. Seeing herself while she was editing her own photos on Photoshop was more than a joy.

For all who are reading this, get out of your comfort zone. Travel, meet new people, take the risk that you have not been able to do before, make many small sacrifices so that you can learn something new, and experience something you have never seen before.

If Mariana learned anything during this atypical year, it is that tomorrow is uncertain. The only thing she knows is this: photography is her greatest passion and friend. Mariana opened up to Photography about her life, her struggles, the mistakes she had made, and a new part of herself started to emerge: all the negative symptoms, like anxiety and depression, a statement as public as exposing herself completely naked, began to be softened – and it was initially scary.

After a year and a half, Mariana is so passionate about art that the photography process has been beautiful to be followed, not only as a photographer but also to see herself in the model role. Perhaps a year from now, you will see her again in more moments of inspiration, passion, and conviction.

Rafael Malvar
My name is Rafael Malvar, 41 years old, Portuguese, living in the west coast of Portugal. I do not live of photography, but I am a photographer, practitioner, learner, and an addict.

Going a bit back in time, I started shooting in analog with an old Pentax, with a 50mm lens, I was about 16-17 years old, and I consider myself an observant person since I could remember.

My first unforgettable experience of photography happened when I went to Canada to spend summer school vacations, I took about 2 or 3 Kodak rolls of film with me to document those 3 months.

I perfectly remember the photos I took on this trip and the feeling of wandering around pressing the shutter, it seemed that time was stopping and slowing down, amazing feelings.

When I returned to Portugal, I lost my camera and stopped photographing. Later, I bought a digital point-and-shoot, but I was just shooting occasionally.

Around 2012 I bought a DSLR and a 50mm, and I felt that my passion for photography was growing, I kept documenting my family and taking some photos at the local skatepark.

In 2018 I went to shoot with a friend and tried the X-Pro2 for the first time, I was purely amazed. After some months, I bought the X-T2 and then a used X-Pro1, it was love at first sight. I was surrendered to Fuji.

I am currently taking the professional photography course at the IF and doing some photographic work in parallel to my professional activity.

I really enjoy landscape photography, especially if the human element is in the frame; it’s such a good mix. I love portraits and people. I consume photography of many genres, but I would say that documentary photography is growing in me.

I tend to buy photography books from classic photographers and study their work online, for example: Joel Meyerowitz, Robert Frank, Ansel Adams, Alex Webb, Annie Leibowitz, Sebastião Salgado, Alec Soth and I follow the work of Portuguese and foreign photographers a lot.

When I scheduled this photoshoot with Mariana, my first thoughts about locations were the beach. I feel comfortable shooting there, and I was shooting a lot in a place that has rocks with character, and that would provide early morning shade. I live in the West, some mornings have a characteristic fog, and with the rising tide, I thought it was a good bet to make this session in that location.

Talking with Mariana before, we both felt that it was a good challenge to merge two persons with really different kinds of work.

In this session, I used the X-T2 with the XC35mm F2, the XF23mm F1.4 (courtesy of Mariana), and the X-Pro1 with the Meike 35mm and the Canon FD 50mm F1.4.

The X-T2 is a workhorse, fast, reliable, feels perfect in my hands, having all the dials at ease, for me it’s the best when you don’t need to go into menus while you’re shooting. The Jpegs on the X-T2 look a lot like film. The film simulations open so many possibilities, you can customize and make your own recipes.

With the X-T2 I can also make videos with extreme quality, and then again, the film simulations give so much character, it’s such a great camera.

The X-Pro1 is very dear to me. Aesthetically it’s perfect, with the rangefinder style. The experience of shooting with her it’s so special, it forces me to slow down, to think more about composition. I use vintage lenses with the X-Pro, that sensor produces simply wonderful colors, the SOOC files are fantastic, I don’t need to do many tweaks in post-editing. It allows me to photograph and enjoy more the moment. This camera has such a soul!

The Hybrid viewfinder also distinguishes this camera from the others, and that, my friends, enriches all the photographic process. I find the experience similar to shooting with a film camera, I press the shutter less often, and when I press it’s with more intention. I can really say that this machine and the Fuji system contributed a lot to my photography passion. I’ve read some articles talking about the love/hate relationship with the X-Pro1, I only know the love part.

Cameras are a tool, but the shooting experience totally changes the final image.

In this photoshoot, I chose the XC35mm F2, that focal length allows me to make portraits, but also to shoot wide. I also took an old vintage 50mm 1.4 for the X-Pro1, essentially for portraits of Mariana and some details. The 50mm focal length is the perfect length to be close enough but not too close.

Nowadays I prefer to keep my equipment minimalist, with 2 prime lenses and a zoom, the Fujinon XF18-55 F2.8, it’s such a cool and underrated lens.

During the session we talked about the X-T and X-Pro line, I also tried the 23mm F1.4 (courtesy of Mariana), and I really liked it because it is wider than what I normally use, I tend to shoot at 35mm (equiv. 50mm), that’s my favorite focal length. I was surprised by Mariana’s Fuji, she uses the X-T100, and that’s just a proof that you don’t need expensive bodies to produce great results, but in fact, the most important thing it’s who’s pressing the shutter.

As for the post-processing workflow, for the raw files I use Lightroom with some old presets that are based on film simulations as a starting point, but with very personal tweaks. Sometimes I use the awesome Fuji SOOC files and post from there, and also the conversion from RAW in camera to JPG, thanks Fuji 🙂 If I’m going to publish on social media, I use Darkroom App to put a frame then on Instagram I make some small adjustments, usually just a bit of clarity and it’s done.

This may sound like a cliché, but photographing Mariana was really special and intense. It was my first time shooting someone as a model. I admire her work as a photographer and as a model, I am such a fan of her self-portraits.

I felt that her experience on both sides was extremely enriching, she helped me a lot in directing, but after a short time we got a fantastic symbiosis during the process, I guess that translates into these images.

To be successful in an intimate session like this, it’s necessary to have a lot of confidence in the work of the photographer and in the model. I already knew Mariana’s work, but didn’t know her personally. I guess our relaxed conversation the day before the session helped, and it made the whole process a lot easier for the two. In the shooting day we gave a lot from each other, we tried not to be aware of time, we let it flow, and that is extremely important.

I want to thank Mariana for taking me completely out of my comfort zone, it felt special! Like someone once said, “life begins at the end of your comfort zone”.

Mariana Cheoo (modelling and post-processing work)

Rafael Malvar (photography)

Mariana Cheoo Mariana Cheoo was born and lives in Lisbon, Portugal. She was a restless and curious child, willing to explore the world. Miss Engineer, to the delight of her parents (and she just didn't follow medicine because she never handled needles well). Today, she thanks: the course taught her how to cope with business skills. However, the hidden art skill has always lived inside her. Art was born with it. Mariana is Art. Rafael Malvar My name is Rafael Malvar, 41 years old, Portuguese, living in the west coast of Portugal. I do not live of photography, but I am a photographer, practitioner, learner, and an addict. Going a bit back in time, I started shooting in analog with an old Pentax, with a 50mm lens, I was about 16-17 years old, and I consider myself an observant person since I could remember.

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