Photographer: Mara Elizabeth Foley's Parallel Realities

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Mara Elizabeth Foley is a photographer who lives and works in Pennsylvania. She has a long history with photography that began during her teenage years. She has been practicing instant photography since 2011. Her work focuses on alternative photographic processes. Her expertise is reflected thorough various subject matter, the core of her work being an exploration of the alternate worlds that the camera can produce, rather than focusing on a single subject. Through her most recent double exposure work, she transforms the camera from an objective recording device into an instrument that produces intimate, parallel universes.

Mara Elizabeth's work is a limited only by the bounds of her imagination. In the stories she creates with her camera, in the snippets of daydream and memory, anything is possible. Victorian houses rise from piano keyboards. Young women ascend urban stairways to heaven. Walls and ceilings give way to mountains, floors give way to lakes. Like the surrealists, she taps into universal themes, and explores the omnipotence of dream and imagination. Her work is multi-faceted, inviting a close look. There is a lot going on in these compositions, though many of them are subtle thanks to the muted colors and monochromatic tonal ranges, and a cursory glance causes one to miss important details. 

 As an artistic medium photography suffers from the common misconception that it is fundamentally a documentary tool; that photography is more or less a creative twist on a technology produced in order to record an objective reality. Mara Elizabeth's goal as a photographer is to create an image that could not be seen without the use of a camera, to stretch and bend a slice of recorded “reality” into a something unique to the photographic medium. These double exposures are produced when slices of reality are seen through one another, layered and blended; The two are fused together to produce a single, new image that doesn’t correspond to anything existing outside of the frame. The camera is transformed from a recorder of the objective into a producer of the subjective and fantastical.

Mara Elizabeth has been passionate about photography for as long as she can remember. She first began shooting on Polaroid film as a child. However, it wasn’t until High School, when she encountered one of Jerry Uelsmann’s photographs, that she realized the sort of work she wanted to create. She had started at a new school and barely knew anyone; she was already experiencing a sort of slanted, unreality. When she sat down on the first day of Film class, she saw there in front of her the most beautiful photograph she had ever seen. It shows a broken down house atop a tree stump, the sky beyond and above dark and stormy, as though it’s about to rain. However, the anticipation of that rain is frozen, and remains so forever, just a moment before falling on a house that could never have existed outside of the picture. The emotion that it evoked was so powerful that she immediately began to research his process and work. It was this photograph that stirred her desire to become a photographer, and inspired her own artistic goals. As a photographer she wants to create images that could not be seen without the use of a camera, to stretch and bend a slice of recorded “reality” into a reality unique to the photographic medium. She wants to be able to evoke that emotion and sense of wonder that Uelsmann’s work evoked in her in adolescence, to ground us and lift us at once through the experience of a photographic world that can be encountered nowhere else.

Years of effort, error, and experience have allowed her to select a toolbox best suited to these goals. She's been shooting on Impossible film since 2011, when she bought her first 600 camera. The Impossible Instant lab is indispensable to her current projects; it allows her to expose her film multiple times with relative ease, creating alternative worlds with every exposure. She's come to favor Impossible 600 Color Film because no other film works as well in conjunction with these other tools for achieving her vision. The Instant Lab serves as both camera and printer. In doing so, it is a site for exposing multiple images. While the film itself is manipulated via temperature and time, sometimes utilized passed its expiration date, or else kept cold in order to create a dreamy, ethereal effect in the finished product. This combination of tools allows for a great breadth of variation between prints.

The Impossible film is highly unpredictable, which means she can use her Instant Lab in order to produce what would be the same image multiple times, while allowing each to yield fresh and unique qualities. This grants each image its own personality, aiding her in bringing to life these alternative photographic spaces, all the more real in their uniqueness. It’s as though each Polaroid contains its own brand of magic, a personal spell. This variable nature makes the film incredible easy to influence through errors on my part, over exposure, impatience, accident, or purpose, something beautiful and personal is always rendered. Mara Elizabeth wants to achieve a distinct dreamy look that she's never been able to achieve with a digital camera. The majority of her work is experimental and abstract. The initial images may be something she has captured digitally or has scanned, but for the final product, digital mediums are just too clear, too sharp, and are essentially lacking that unique magic that her work craves. Her favorite example of this, from her own work, is entitled “City Hall”. It is a double exposure featuring a nude woman emerging from Philadelphia’s City Hall Building. She created this image with her Impossible Lab, a black and white image which she exposed on 600 Color Film. In the lower right hand corner there is a distinct thumb print from when she first held the image; maybe some would think that this unattractive, but to her it’s yet another layer of reality added to the work, more life and more breath. It has on it a special sort of signature, like a scar that tells the story of where it has been and who has held it.

Foley's work has been widely exhibited and featured worldwide online and in print. Of the numerous showings of her work, some of her recent exhibitions include: A Surreal Vision hosted at Mostra Collettiva Fotografica in Rome in June 2017 , Hair of the Cat Exhibition at the Black Cat Tavern in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in January 2017, and the Pop Up Polaroid-One Year Anniversary Group Show at The Art Dept in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in July 2016. She has been featured in print in One Hundred Volume 1 Issue 2  Instant in June 2017 and Square Magazine Volume 7 Issue 1 in July of 2016. She has also made appearances in Hylas Magazine, Snap It See Itand the Impossible Project Magazine

You can connect with Mara Elizabeth Foley on Instagram and on her website!


Anne Silver is an instant photography aficionado who lives in Paris, France and is a member of the 12:12 Project. Connect with Anne Silver on her Website and on Instagram!