Michaela Ďurišová Fairy Bible of Dreams: Exclusive Interview
Exclusive Interview With Michaela Ďurišová, 3rd Prize Winner of the INPRNT Photography Award, 2023 Beautiful Bizarre Art Prize by Andrea Kovacic
In the enchanting world of art photography, one name stands out – Michaela Ďurišová. Hailing from the picturesque town of Dubnica nad Váhom in Slovakia, Michaela Ďurišová’s journey as a photographer is a tapestry of creativity, resilience, and profound connection with her roots. She is the 3rd prize winner of the Beautiful Bizarre Art Prize 2023 INPRNT Photography award.
A multifaceted artist, Michaela Ďurišová’s artistic odyssey commenced in a diverse realm of disciplines, from music and set design to crafting exquisite jewellery. Her foray into photography was serendipitous, ignited by her need to capture her jewellery creations and share them with the world. Yet, her path took an unexpected turn when a single photoshoot with her mother altered the course of her career.
As we delve into her world, Michaela Ďurišová offers insights into her artistic evolution, her unique style, and the profound emotional resonance in her work. With each click of the shutter, she transports us into a realm of whimsy and introspection, where photography becomes a powerful medium for storytelling and self-discovery. In this exclusive interview, we unravel the layers of Michaela Ďurišová’s extraordinary journey and the captivating narratives that emerge through her otherworldly imagery.
Please introduce yourself to our readers, including the story behind your journey as an art photographer.
My name is Michaela Ďurišová and I come from Slovakia, from a small town called Dubnica nad Váhom. When I was 14 years old I left home for boarding school to study musical-dramatic arts. I loved singing, which was something I wanted to do, but the circumstances of life changed my plans. From an early age I was exposed to the visual arts through my father, who painted landscapes using the hardboard oil painting technique.
During my studies, I started teaching in the music and drama department and began teaching through the staging of stories for kids. I even wrote and staged a few stories myself. Creating the set and costumes has always been very important to me, because I have always focused on visuals and everything had to make sense, whether in terms of colour or style.
During college, I started to shorten the long exam periods by making my own original jewellery – earrings, bracelets, brooches, necklaces. It started with felting, progressed to sewing, and then I started combining sewing and gluing fabric flowers and dried flowers I collected outdoors on my walks.
After college, my husband and I moved to Austria, but I couldn’t find a suitable job in the area where we lived, so I decided to start my own jewellery brand called Magaela. I turned my living room into a Magaela workshop and thus 11 years ago my brand was born. Wine has a special tradition in Slovakia, so when I created the “The Grape Harvest” collection, I started to put my personal feelings and memories of this beautiful season into products such as hair combs or headbands. This collection became very popular among my first customers. Magaela products are popular among brides from all over the world. I got into photography because of my brand.
Gradually, I started asking my friends and later on models to do shoots with me. But I have never had any confidence in myself when it came to photography. I used to call in photographers I worked with for big shoots of my products. But the bigger the collections were, the harder it was to pull off financially, as well as getting the photos processed quickly. Another problem was that gradually other, competing brands started to emerge and they started to work with the same photographers. I felt like I lost my signature, my uniqueness.
My makeup artist friend was constantly encouraging me and pushing me to be more confident in my photography, until I started shooting my own collections and began to educate myself in photography. However, one photo shoot became a life-changing moment for me, it changed everything and launched my career as a photographer from one day to the next. My life-changing photoshoot was in 2018. My parents came to visit us and my mum and I agreed to do a photoshoot with her hair loose because her hair was almost down to her butt and she was going to have it cut, so she told me that it was my last chance to shoot her with long hair.
I posted the photos with a little soul that very evening and they went viral within a few hours, which triggered an incredible amount of support from people, whether it was for me as a photographer or my mum as a model. And that’s how the new story of me as an art photographer began.
Can you describe life and culture in Slovakia?
Slovakia is a small country in the heart of Europe. A country full of beautiful songs, poems, and embroideries. Its uniqueness lies in our traditions and folklore, as well as in its beautiful nature and Slavic poetic art and rhetoric. But unfortunately, nowadays, young people seem to be afraid to claim their roots and overlook the uniqueness of our country. I do not know whether this is because of our politicians or simply because of the multicultural age. Slovaks are descendants of shepherds and craftsmen. And this remains in our genes to this day.
Many people from Slovakia have also become famous around the world. For example, Andy Warhol’s mother moved to America from a small Slovak village called Miková. We were also part of Czechoslovakia, so I can also mention an artist who influenced me immensely, and that is Alfonz Mucha. Mucha has been part of my world since I was a child. We had posters of him hanging in primary school and in my adulthood, the Art Nouveau period began to influence me a lot. You can often feel it in my accessories and photography. His work is an endless well of inspiration.
We are a small nation with a big heart, but a lack of self-confidence. It’s as if we are afraid to be proud Slovaks, to show the world who we are. It’s hard to describe life and culture here. It’s true that you have to experience it.
Do you think it has influenced your artistry?
Certainly yes, but I was influenced more by the secession and Slavic and pagan customs. Folklore is a very sensitive topic in Slovakia. There was a big boom here at one time. There was a kind of renaissance of Slovak traditions, when folklore motifs started to get into commercial sales and they were really everywhere. Often it looked almost tacky and had nothing to do with folklore. Personally, I’m still processing this and when the time is right, I’ll focus on folk design even in my photos. I want to be sure it really has depth and respect for our roots.
For now, I approach photography very intuitively and naturally I don’t like to do something forcefully just because it’s modern. I like to do things honestly and from the heart, the way I feel about them. I want to be honest with the viewer and convey good energy and I couldn’t achieve that if I was dealing with a subject that I myself don’t understand and am not internally connected to. So, even though folklore is the strongest thing in our country, I have not yet been able to process it. I would also like to show our folk culture in photography in the future. I have many ideas.
Currently, I have been working on the so-called Rembrandt lighting. I have seen it in our castles and paintings in them, which we have a lot of in Slovakia. So I don’t think that culture as such has an influence on my work at the moment, but the art that I’ve been able to perceive through the culture in Slovakia has had a really big influence on me. In my history classes, I was always fascinated by antiquity, secession, baroque, renaissance, mainly because of the clothes and the overall look, but back then it was more of a world culture or more of a European culture.
Tell us more about your winning work “Fairy Godmother”.
The photo “Fairy Godmother” was created especially for the Beautiful Bizarre Art Prize. The fairy is often depicted very naively in bright colours, but I personally see it in a more grounded way. The moth metaphor came about as a paraphrase of the nightmares I used to have as a child. In my memories, it was my mother who chased away those ghosts.
This is my personal perception of the photograph, my own inner self. But when I started looking for what more I could offer the viewer, we decided to depict the theme of the night butterfly as a moth, as a paraphrase on the mature age of being unwanted and feared by everyone while also being beautiful in its own way. However, in the photograph “Fairy Godmother” everyone can see their own meaning of perception.
Another important aspect for me is the light I work with. Through the light, I try to encourage the viewer to see the key things that are important to me in photography and, at the same time, to hide some parts so that they have space for their subconscious imagination. For me, “Fairy Godmother” is a kind of psychology between the viewer and the photographer, where I reveal a piece of my emotions and my view of the world.
I try to give the viewer a choice through these clues, and at the same time to present my point of view about finding beauty in everything, even in the most difficult moments, even in the most unpleasant moments. My life is full of such contrasts – it’s either too cool or too challenging. That’s what my work is all about – it is simple, but at the same time, it’s heavy on light or costume.
What does this photograph mean to you?
It has a personal value to me, especially because it features my mother, but it also depicts my personal inner story, my childhood memories. Nightmares can be frightening, but I remember my mum comforting me at night that it was just a dream and giving me caresses and reassurance. That moment was so powerful that it drowned out all the negativity and turned my nightmare into a fairytale.
How would you describe the relationship between a mother and her daughter?
There is a 41-year age gap between me and my mum. Since I was a little girl, I used to hear from my siblings that I was “unintended” but my mum always said they wanted to have me and made me feel like I belonged in this world. I unconsciously struggled with that feeling for a while, but in the end, thanks to the photoshoots, my mum and I grew that much closer together.
She was always there for me whenever I needed her, but at the same time she left me enough space to be independent. When I have a problem, I can always confide in her; she has always been there. Sometimes we have different opinions on politics or on certain people, but we can respect each other at the same time.
Do you design and put together your own sets?
I plan some of my sets several years in advance. I’m kind of a collector of nice objects and I gradually use them in individual projects. But I also like improvisation and we have our own personal association, which we named “Desperate Women”. This association includes my long-time friend Baška Slováková, and a professional model Miška Kohútová. We meet up in the studio and just start improvising and creating projects. Baška creates props like wings and oversized insects like moths, bees, snails, and also takes care of the makeup and hair. I mostly pick the dresses or accessories or even make some specific accessories to fit the theme, decorate the set, set the lights.
Then there is my long-time friend Baja who works in my Magaela workshop and makes floral accessories. She also often comes up with the props and tries to help me with the set design and arrangements. Everytime I get a new dress, she puts it on and we do a fitting together.
I’ve also learned how to take photos with her as a model and how to experiment with photography techniques. My husband also helps me with whatever needs to be done, but often it’s just helping with lighting and carrying heavy lights or setting up or breaking down new scenes.
I’m very lucky to have such great people who support me and help me manifest and create these images of mine. This work is a transport to another world that combines everything that defines me. Everything I love – stories, visuals, creativity with deep thought and a dose of philosophy.
Nightmares can be frightening, but I remember my mum comforting me at night that it was just a dream and giving me caresses and reassurance. That moment was so powerful that it drowned out all the negativity and turned my nightmare into a fairytale.
How do you choose your models?
It’s very important the model and I are a good fit, especially on a human level, so I often keep the same models for a long time. Subconsciously, I often look for models who supposedly look like myself. I don’t do it on purpose but there is a certain type of girl that personally fits that photo I want to make. I guess it’s because I try to create the photos as personal paraphrases and I want to capture my own and personal stories. It’s kind of my personal therapy where I’m coming to terms with certain phases in my life and processing them.
Is there something that you are looking for in particular?
Mainly emotions. So that the model has a genuine deep emotion inside her that she can convey in the photo. But at first sight, they often have common features – long red hair or long hair in general, freckles, full lips, smaller nose, round or oval face.
At the same time, I love models who have overcome all differences and accept themselves and their beauty as such and, most importantly, consider themselves beautiful in a healthy way, because this is already very rare in women nowadays. They all deal with the fact that they are not good enough. I’ve had the same problem for years, which makes it all the more important for me in my work. I want to make sure the women in my photos are happy with themselves, and that they look happy and confident.
Nowadays, even beautiful women often chase an imaginary ideal of beauty, and life passes through their fingers instead of dealing with the really important things – this makes me sad. I don’t represent the ideal of beauty either. I have learned to accept myself and that there are more important things in life than beauty. Loving your fellow man, embracing love, living in harmony with nature, accepting yourself and being understanding, lending a helping hand, not judging and living in the moment. These are the real values that matter to me and I want my models to be honest and not pretend to be someone they are not.
Do you collaborate with fashion designers to source your costumes?
Oh, this is probably a question whose answer can be for a whole new interview! I have a collection of thousands of costumes in my studio. I love to surround myself with beautiful dresses, things. I have a few dozen collaborations with different designers, but I’ve also created and designed many dresses myself. But I don’t shy away from fast fashion, either. I’m such a collector. Among my favourite designers, I’d like to mention my collaboration with the brand called Chotronette, which has created and lent me several custom-made dresses for my mum.
Many designers just shy away from this because my mum is short and has specific measurements. She’s a Venus for me and I really appreciate the girls at Chotronette for always creating amazing custom-made dresses for my mum and as an added bonus, they were so grateful that I reached out to them. They once mentioned that thanks to me they also started trusting people again and started working with different artists again because they were very disappointed in the past. That made me so happy.
Currently, thanks to my Baška Slováková, I started using the costumes from the attic – they are the old theatre costumes that are several decades old and were in the attic of a lady who inherited them. They are ready-made treasures for me, and part of one of the costumes is used in the “Fairy Godmother” photo – a ruff, a skirt and an apron made of silk. Baška Slováková, who arranged the fabric directly on my mother, created the rest of the costume on the spot.
I also collaborate with designer Laura Bordei, who is from Italy – she makes custom-made dresses for pregnant women, but they can also be used for any other models. From Slovak designers I would like to mention especially Jaroslava Wurll Kocánová, who interweaves modern cuts with our traditional embroidery, but also Veronika Kostkova, Viera Futáková, Severanka, Love Colors Slovakia, Dominika Lehotská, Matty Urbanič, Veronika Sláviková under the brand Fairytale, but also the wedding salon Ľubica from Piešt’any, or the salon Isabell, Mayra Urban, Sicily Style, Lussika or By Ka_mi_ko.
We are currently preparing a collaboration with the well-known dress brand Fairycore Linennaive, with which I am currently preparing a photo shoot with my mum, and hopefully, you will see the result soon. In conclusion, I would perhaps just like to add that there are never enough dresses and my dream is to establish collaborations with big and small designers who would create for me or lend me more artistic dresses, so this way, if someone would be interested in collaborating with me, I’m up for it.
What would you describe your “style” to be?
This is a very good question, one that I have thought about many times, but I have never had a clear answer. I don’t think I have a particular style where I belong. Compared to other photographers’ work, my photography is often too fairytale-like, too slick and ornate. It’s kind of a mixture of old fine art, but also a lot inspired by the very fairytales and folk tales I grew up on as a child. I never know how I’ll wake up and what I’ll like that day, because I like the fantasy world of fairies, dwarfs, witches, but I also like humanity and strong emotional documentary photographs.
For a long time, I have been bothered by the fact that I can’t fit in anywhere, that my work doesn’t really belong anywhere. When people asked me what I did, I had a very hard time showing them my work, because I was often met with ridicule and incomprehension. Some people told me it was kitsch. It bothered me. I couldn’t fit in and it was stopping me from doing what I loved. But then I discovered your magazine and suddenly it all started to make sense to me. This is where the world of fantasy and personal expression meets with understanding and respect.
I don’t represent the ideal of beauty either. I have learned to accept myself and that there are more important things in life than beauty.
Suddenly, I was motivated to do new projects such as “Fairy Godmother”. I couldn’t believe it when the photo made it to the finals. It was incomprehensible to me that I was among such great finalists and smart people, most of whom I already knew from Instagram and followed myself. I admired them so much and I am among them!!!
When I got the email that I had placed, I had to spend three days trying to figure out if it was true and I didn’t tell anyone. I kind of needed to process it, and I couldn’t get excited about it until it was official. Suddenly, it all hit me and the whole thing so incredibly empowered me, that yes it is meaningful, you belong somewhere, and your work gives meaning and significance to someone.
If you had to choose one of your favourite fairytales to share, what would you choose and why?
I confess that I am one of those eternal kids who will never stop believing in fairytales. I’ve written a few fairytales myself for children’s theatre shows. It’s hard for me to pick just one of the classic fairytales. Among my favourites, without which Christmas is not Christmas for me, are The Three Wishes for Cinderella, The Prince and the Evening Star, The Proud Princess, Once Upon a Time There Was a King, The Princess with the Golden Star, The Girl on the Broomstick (these are class Slovak and Czech fairytales).
My favourite cartoons are Coco, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, How to Train Your Dragon, Up, Coraline. Tim Burton’s fairytales: Corpse Bride, Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Big Fish, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children have a special place in my life. Of course, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings also belong to this section – I love fairytales and fantasy movies, series, and books.
Why did Michaela Ďurišováenter the Beautiful Bizarre Magazine Art Prize?
I mentioned this above. To sum up, I admire this magazine very much and I had a strong inner need to be a part of it. The work you present is somehow close to my heart. I came across it at a time when I felt lost. Lately, I have been trying to make my work known to the world. I would like to start selling my photographs abroad and I would like to exhibit my work all over the world. And projects like yours give us the hope that dreams can become reality.
What do you feel you have gained from this experience?
It’s been a tremendous experience for me. I’ve always wanted my certified fine art print printed on collectible paper or canvas. And now it’s happening – to have this work signed and sent to New York for an exhibition is a priceless feeling and experience for me.
I’ve met many smart people through this competition, and I’ve gained new followers of my work – the art community from all over the world. And most importantly, I’m forced to finally get over myself and stop telling myself that I don’t speak English all the time (laughs). Every email from the Beautiful Bizarre team makes me improve my English. I had the opportunity to tell my personal story thanks to this contest through this interview. These are all wonderful experiences I’ve only gained because of the competition. I am incredibly grateful.
Would you recommend it and encourage others to enter? If so, why?
Definitely yes. Often we creators and artists don’t believe in ourselves, and we are not satisfied with our work. We often condemn ourselves to failure but only in our own heads, without trying to share our work with others. This competition gives a space, opportunity and experience that you don’t get in just any competition. I feel like it’s a “family” type of competition where you are not only awarded, but you get a community of people where you belong and feel at home. Even if one doesn’t get a placement, one has to try and watch the other creators in the other categories and take it as a school of life that offers current trends in the arts.
I definitely recommend this competition and as they say, if you don’t try, you don’t know… With that said, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone involved with Beautiful Bizarre – be it the magazine or the competition, for this opportunity and the space and experience that is very important to us creators. I greatly admire you people who are dedicated to this and have devoted your time and maybe even your lives to it.