Maria Jose Govea doesn’t know this yet but we’ve always had a bit of a crush on her. Even way before the talented photographer agreed to meet up for an interview with Fingers on Blast. Even way before we knew she had a Venezuelan accent, was previously a DJ and that her taste in music was eerily similar (if not exactly the same) as ours. Between Maria’s rad style and natural ability to capture the wildest moments at shows like Major Lazer, Die Antwoord and Toronto’s Mad Decent Block Party, who wouldn’t have a crush on this photogrockstar? It’s no wonder she’s so aptly known as THESUPERMANIAK.
Recently back from shooting Miami’s Ultra Music Festival and trying to get over a cold, Maria sat in front of me as I resisted overwhelming her with too many questions about her recent experiences. Donning a flat-brimmed cap that read “NICE” and a gold-chained necklace with the dangling black letters “AARRGHHHH,” I knew the interview was going to get interesting.
“Oh my god. [Ultra] was insane,” Maria responds, when I asked how it was. “One of those things where I was working really hard but at the same time I was having a lot of fun so it was just an ideal situation. You don’t always get to do that, you know?”
“A lot of fun” is an understatement. Having been asked to follow L.A. DJ/producer 12th Planet around Miami to document his shows, a typical day for Maria would be cruising in a yacht taking shots at the Skrillex and Friends Yacht Party, then getting picked up in a massive tour bus with Baauer and 12th Planet DJing inside only to reach the SMOG vs. Basshead party in downtown Miami – not to mention hitting a few after-parties like the one hosted at a strip club with DJ sets by A-Trak and Brodinski somewhere in between.
Inside the party bus and yacht in Miami. “[12th Planet] is a very fun guy to work with. There’ s never a dull moment, there’ s always something happening with him, so you need to be on your toes. ‘Cus when you least expect it, he’ s gonna do something crazy, like he’s gonna jump [and land] on his head.”
“It’s just really good to have so many talented people around you and have so much good music. So much good music. And so many parties,” she adds.
If you haven’t seen this superchick in Toronto running around the stage with a camera shooting over/under/between crowds/DJs/security, you’ve been going to the wrong shows. When you look at the kind of photos Maria takes – crisp shots of often hyperactive, hard-to-capture DJs fused with vibrant colours and ecstatic faces of the crowd during intense EDM sets – it seems as though she has been doing this forever. But photography was never something she always wanted to do.
Ten years ago, Maria moved from Venezuela to Toronto to study film at the International Academy of Design and Technology, now known as the Toronto Film School. “When I finished, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, if I wanted to direct, write, produce, act – I had no idea,” she explains. “And if I wanted to stay in the country, I had to study something else because my visa was expiring.”
At that point, Maria was DJing, playing sets under the name Maniak. She started to do her own press shots for MySpace using an older Sony Cybershot digital camera – a far cry from the hardcore lenses and Canon DSLRs she swears by today. “One of my friends was like, ‘You’re really good at doing your self-portraits, why don’t you just study photography?’ And I was like yeah… Something clicked.”
“Seeing my Skrillex photos on his vinyl booklet released with Atlantic Records was one of the most exciting moments I've experienced so far. It's so rewarding to see your work turned into something as hype as that!”
Maria went back to school for photography for about six months. It was enough for her to learn the basics and realize she wanted to use the rest of the money for school to buy photo gear instead. “At that point, I had gone to university in Venezuela, I had studied film – I didn’t want to study anymore. I dropped out of school and bought some equipment.” As DJ Maniak, Maria also started throwing a lot of parties, where she began shooting her friends and other DJs as well. That’s when she knew she actually had a knack for something awesome – but it wasn’t without a bit of trial and error.
“[Concert photography] is tough, definitely. If you see my first pictures they’re really, really, really bad,” she laughs. “It’s insane how bad they are… I look back at my pictures and I’m like wow, I really thought this was cool?”
Soon after, Maria started shooting bigger and bigger parties for fun, including a few shows put on by mega-tastemakers Embrace. When the Bassmentality nights exploded into the scene about three years ago, Maria was there to capture it. Embrace picked her up and she began shooting for them ever since.
“Yolandi broke my nose. I was full on bleeding. I was in the pit and I guess I got too close and she probably didn’t measure how close she was. She kicked the lens and the lens hit my face... [but] I am the biggest fan of Die Antwoord.”
Being a professional events photographer, you truly need to take everything into account – the lighting conditions are never the same, the different venue layouts takes some getting used to, there are always drunk and/or stoned people everywhere and you never know what the DJs are about to do. On top of that, you have to lug around over five kilos of gear while relentless security guys give you a hard time. Maria recalls shooting the sold-out Major Lazer show at Sound Academy back in February. The confetti, the dancers changing, flags waving, girls trying to get onstage, excessive fog machines, rammed mosh pits: “Honestly, that show? I never worked as hard... I was overwhelmed.”
Her secret: “To put up with the madness, you have to join the madness.”
Above all, the most difficult part of being a concert photographer, Maria says, is fusing work with her passion for music.
As a long-time EDM lover, Maria says when she’s not working and simply there to enjoy the show, she yearns for her camera; when she is working a show, some moments she wishes she could just throw the camera and go completely nuts dancing. “I can’t win,” she laughs.
“Let’s say tonight – it’s Flosstradamus. I fucking love Flosstradamus, are you kidding me? But I’m gonna be there working. And even though I’m extremely excited about the show, I need to be super sharp to be able to get images that I want to get. I need to be focused. And it’s hard to be focused when you’re so passionate about the music. It’s really tough, I want to sometimes dance but no – I need to keep still and take the shot.”
Maria adds that the best part of the set is usually that organ-rattling “drop” but that’s also when the best opportunities for shots happen. “It’s a very keen moment where I need to compromise my own excitement and enjoyment to get the shots I need,” she says. Imagine the will power it would take for an EDM lover to resist reacting to the bass drop. Maria’s photos show that will power. You could literally feel yourself being in that crowd, chills and all, at that moment the photo was taken – or at least feel yourself getting jealous at not being there.
I told her when people look at her shots or the Embrace albums on Facebook, it’s enough to make each of them a happier person. “That’s the best thing you can say to me, seriously,” she says.
How is she able to capture genuine moments like those at the perfect time?
“I think it comes from a very honest place. I’ve been a raver, I’ve been a DJ, I’ve been a promoter so I’m very in sync with what’s happening at a party, you know? I really, really feel it. And I think if you can feel it, it’s easier for you to capture it. So when I’m at a party, I’m really there. I’m looking at the kids who are having fun, I’m just searching automatically for what’s real and for what’s going off. So I guess that’s why my work has a certain energy that really comes from me.”
Maria adds that you could tell a lot about a photographer by looking at that person’s work. In Maria’s case, THESUPERMANIAK, her passion for music oozes through the photos and you can tell she’s having so much fun. Like envious fun.
“Also when I edit the photos, I add my own style to it. Some people like to shoot exactly what was there and sometimes I like to add a bit more in post. It depends on the night – some nights I don’t even touch the picture and sometimes I go crazy... I mess with the colours. I get really artsy with it but it depends.”
“[Photography] has to come from an honest place. You really have to do what you want to do. Even though that’ s not gonna pay the bills, even if it’ s not what photography is currently looking like these days. You really have to do whatever you want to do.”
So what’s next for THESUPERMANIAK? Maria responds as if going through a catalogue of dream gigs stored in her brain. “My dream job is to work for Mad Decent. I want to go to every Mad Decent Block Party, I want to go to Jamaica with them…” she lists off. She mentions heading west to L.A. where all the EDM action is or maybe exploring the scene in New York. She talks about hoping to one day go on tour with a DJ (“I like jokers”) or continue making more music videos. She’s also been working on a little behind the scenes video with some footage she’s been collecting for a bit. “I have so many things I want to do, you have no idea.”
But for now, Maria is really taking in Toronto before she becomes a super maniac elsewhere in the world. A decade after moving from South America to Canada, she’s never been happier. “I love Toronto! I love the people. I love the city. I love my neighbourhood. I really, really like my life here, so I can’t complain.”