The photographer using her dreamlike images to expand and redefine our understanding of beauty
At the age of eight, growing up on the west coast of the USA, Margaret Leyva’s step-dad let her use his Canon Rebel 8 to take photos in Joshua Tree National Park. It was this precious first encounter with photography that sparked a life-long love for the discipline. “He was really encouraging,” she recalls, “and I think that gave me a foundation of confidence that has carried until now, thirteen years later.”
Over the years that followed, Margaret nurtured that balance of self-belief and external guidance to hone a process of image-making that yields beautifully dreamlike results. Wanting to learn more, during high school she took four years of dark room photography classes at a local recreation centre. It was a space that provided the flexibility she needed to follow her gut while offering support that would push her to discover new techniques and alternative approaches. “I developed my practice through a combination of just doing what I wanted until I got somewhere I actually liked and being able to ask someone with experience and knowledge their thoughts whenever I needed.”
With these years of experience already under Margaret’s belt, when high school came to an end and the time came to think how she could support herself, it was as simple as asking: “‘what am I good at?’ And it was photography.” The decision not to take a university route came almost as easily, not least because of the extortionate costs of further education in the US. “College is crazy expensive, so I didn’t go,” as she frankly explains. Indeed, her rich and poetic work is solid proof — if it was even needed — that further education is by no means a necessity in developing a stunning practice and carving out a successful career.
Looking across Margaret’s work, an ethereal visual thread emerges. Despite the distinctiveness of this thread, it’s not a something she consciously set out to create. “Multiple people have asked how I have developed such a distinctive aesthetic, and I honestly don’t know. Partly because I don’t feel I have one,” she muses. If anything, this dreamy quality emerged organically as a manifestation of the experiences, emotions and ideas she finds herself drawn to in day-to-day life: “I love love. Everything about it. From falling in love to heartbreak. And love is a very surreal experience, but at the same time can be very grounding. I think that plays a massive role in why things I create are so dreamlike and soft.”
These serene and romantic images centre on portraits, placing her subjects in softly-lit sets crafted from materials she has available to her. Through these portraits Margaret tries to capture and portray beauty that is often underrepresented in the mainstream. “I like shooting people that I find beautiful, but that you wouldn’t necessarily find in magazines. I highlight different aspects of beauty in the hope of expanding or redefining our understanding of it,” she reflects.
With a secret project in the pipeline, Margaret is also focussing on making personal work, including cards for a Lotería series. As she continues to expand her stunning practice, we’re certainly eager to see what she makes next.