Photography by Mariah Miranda
I was two years old when my world went quiet. I was still exploring the minuscule parts of existence on this earth – my mother’s voice soft in the morning, eyes full of sleep or the dog’s nails rapidly hitting the kitchen tile floors in anticipation of dinner. The walls of our home contained the sounds of a family living in a new house and the outside world was bright, the sound of cars cascading down the street day and night in the background.
I don’t recall a before and after to this phenomenon of my version of the world-changing before me. When you’re brand new to this existence, your senses are stimulated by the experiences of your environment; and, I was determined to take it all in. I was too fascinated by the way the light hit from the back door, spilling onto the kitchen floor, or the dirt thick in the air from the dogs playing in the backyard, speckles settling to the ground.
After twenty-five years of being hard of hearing, one of the most prominent things I’ve learned is how intensely we humans rely on non-verbal communication. The moment a person crosses their arms in an argument to protect their core or the way their eyes dart to the back door in suspense. I have found the intuitive and embedded poetry that lies underneath the words we speak simply by witnessing thousands of people throughout my lifetime.
The only memory I have of my ear tube surgeries was the sensation of my small hands brushing against the hospital gown, the overhead fluorescent lights painfully bright. I regained a large portion of my hearing a few years later but by that point, I had already learned to access the quiet corners of reality and preferred to stay there, where I was safe. I did not live there daily but when the noise of the world became too loud, I could transcend back to that space.
My journey of falling in love with photography cannot be told without acknowledging the spaces I have found my body and soul to be – the medium is purely a tool to illustrate the way I see the world. Staying in love with photography was a matter of using the camera as an excuse to connect to other humans in the way that made the most sense to me: by observing them.
As a sophomore in high school, I found myself in dirty basement house shows standing in the back of the room, letting the sound engulf and pulsate through my body. I preferred that I couldn’t make out the words being screamed into the microphone. I would look around the room, behaving as if I were at a buffet, coming back for more to witness the personalities without ever having to verbally engage because no one else was either. This same sentiment translated to other situations I would find myself – in the middle of the couch at a party, watching two lovers through the doorway in the other room or in a crowded street corner, witnessing a pool of light reflect off a building onto the people around me.
The first time I slept over at a beau’s house, I had bundled my naked body in a blanket, sitting at the kitchen table as I watched him prepare our breakfast. I’d said nothing as I watched the steam from the water collect in a french press, his slender hands gently pushing down from the top. I was consumed by the small movements in a space his body knew so intuitively that it took me by surprise when he’d broken the silence with,
“You’re always watching me.” Followed by, “I don’t mind, but it’s taking some getting used to.”
In a turn of events, with solitude as a child to the lover as an adult, the observer was observed for her compulsive, natural state. For weeks, I’d think about this exchange, catching myself as I automatically looked around in each environment I found myself in while also acknowledging this was nothing new. It was not uncommon for my intensive gaze to be perceived as judgement, as I am accustomed to concentrating on a person’s body in order to understand what is being said; or more importantly, what is being felt.
I was fourteen years old when I was given a digital point and shoot that I carried with me, documenting in various cities as I spent years traveling on the road with my mother in a post-2008 recession era. From middle America with sprawling farms to the West coast with fresh fruits hanging heavy from a tree, to the East Coast and southern states with expansive mountains and streets reminiscent of colonialism.
Without missing a beat, I cultivated my deep desire to take in the world by capturing the people in the spaces I found myself in. I had discovered a way to engage with the world in a way that didn’t hinder me as it often had, but actually, in a form that others craved from me. Over the years, the camera became the key to entering rooms lush with moments full of love, secrets, and knowledge alike.
In the process of this consistent photography practice, I had made it impossible to shut off that desire in me to witness the world – to drink in the small moments and the loud ones and their intersections where they often collide.
It’s not uncommon for clients, a wide range of shapes, colors, and experience, to approach me with anxiety about being seen by me – by my camera – by the world. I sympathize with this incentive because I understand that it’s our own truth that we tend to hide from ourselves, concerned that the outer world will confirm these notions. It’s not uncommon for individuals, whether it be in my work or in my personal life, to catch me observing them and exclaim that I’m judging them. The knee-jerk reaction to figure out a way to make themselves “more” or “less”.
“Make me less fat.”
“I want to be more pretty.”
“The bags under my eyes make me less than.”
But the kicker is that I don’t wish for anyone to change because I know who we are is malleable and interchangeable, meaning we evolve without or without trying.
And that is one of the sweetest parts to seeing and being seen. You will become many versions of yourself in this lifetime and my dream to capture them all.
Mariah is a Washington, D.C. based documentary style freelance photographer, specializing in portraiture and lifestyle coverage. Through her eye for raw and candid moments, she aims to showcase true characteristics of people from different walks of life.
As an inspiring international photographer, she has completed courses and conducted projects in Israel, UK, Spain, France, and Morocco. Her portrait of a Moroccan Embassy worker was chosen to be in the permanent collection of the National Museum of American Diplomacy on commission for the United States Department.
Her work focuses primarily on the dynamics within the intersectionality of race, gender, and womxn’s bodies.
More of Mariah’s Work in Mixed Mag: The 2020 Election in D.C. by Mariah Miranda (Issue 4)
Connect with Mariah: http://www.mariahmiranda.com/“