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         Mirella Cardoso is a multi-talented creative. She works across industries as a photographer, filmmaker, painter, model and actress. She expresses a genuine love for the process of creating and an admiration for others’ art. She immerses herself in her work and finds fulfillment in experimentation. She’s constantly looking for new ways to challenge herself and has infinite curiosity.

         Her self-portraits, both photographs and paintings, caught our attention for their moodiness. Her works are ones of self-exploration, but for us became a further study of the relationship between an artist and muse. In many ways, her life is her muse. She also frequently looks towards characters in films.

         On the cusp of her college graduation, we caught up with Mirella to talk about what goes on behind the scenes.


When did you start making self-portraits?

I took my first photography class two years ago. Even though I’d been photographing since I was about 12 years old, it was my first formal course and it finally gave me an excuse to take photos. It was a black and white darkroom class and for a majority of the semester I focused on documentary photography of my girl friends. For my final project my professor mentioned that I portrayed women strongly and proposed the idea of me taking photos of myself. It wasn’t something I had ever done before but I kind of liked the idea of it. It felt like a challenge and sounded fun. I ordered a medium format camera off ebay and just started and didn’t stop! The class ended and I started taking a painting class. I was painting other people and decided I might as well try painting a self-portrait. I ended up really enjoying that. There’s a certain freedom in being your own subject.

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How long do you spend planning and setting up for a self-portrait?

With photography it’s a longer process and more of a set up. Lighting is important and some shoots I do quite a bit of art direction. A lot of my inspiration for my self-portraits comes from films. I see my photographs as almost cinema stills than a portrait of myself. It takes days of inspiration that are never planned, but the set up itself is a day long process. I’m never sure how they’re going to turn out so I take a lot of the same scene. I want the process to be as least stressful as possible and that’s the beauty of having yourself as a subject. It can be very meditative.

How does the process differ when you’re painting?

It’s the same and it’s different. I’m not accurately portraying how I look. It’s more of an emotional portrayal.

Are your paintings or photographs more accurate representations of yourself?

I don’t know that either are more accurate. They both have certain truths but they’re creatively made. Neither is very documentary at all.

Are your self-portraits characters?

Everyday everyone is performing. I romanticize about the characters I see in films and how I feel like them.


How does sharing your work make you feel?

The self-portrait drawings and paintings are definitely much harder to share. I kept them secret for a long time. They’re even more personal. They are nude paintings and when I draw them, they come from a nude photo. It’s just more intimate. I was nervous to share them, but it feels good sharing my work. I never thought anyone would care, but they’ve inspired people in different ways and that’s great!

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What is it like being in the room while people look at your work?

It’s a little weird, but I’ve become used to it. At first when my family came in and there were nude paintings of me, I didn’t know how to feel about it. Now, I’m both attached and detached from my work because to an extent it’s not me. I just get excited that people are seeing and talking about my work.


How have your self-portraits shaped the way you work with other subjects?

I still love taking photographs of other people. Documentary photography will always be something that I love, but also fashion photography. I think photographing myself has changed the way I photograph other people because now I have more of a style. I learned what I like.

In what ways is your creative process the same between photography and film?

I am very interested in creating imaginary worlds. I love how that’s such an important part of film.

What is the subject matter of your films?

Funny enough, the two films I have coming out are also about me. One of them is an experimental narrative loosely based on true stories and the other is a documentary of found footage from when I was growing up and filming myself. They’re very different, but both still inspired by me. I think that I focus on myself because I’m still coming of age and I’m trying to figure myself out! I’m trying to be very present, but also recognize the past and how that affects who I am now.

Did you find someone to play the role of yourself in the experimental narrative?

No, I’m in it. I wanted to be in it because I love acting and I wanted to try it. It’s such a personal story so I felt it fitting.


How do the films build on the rest of your work? How do they show something new?

They’re definitely even more personal. I wrote the script and edited the film. My photographs and paintings are more up for interpretation than the films. My other work can mean anything to anyone, but my films or more direct.


How does your work help you work through your emotions?

It’s meditative. Creatively, it’s great that I have these outlets - I think everyone should have an outlet of some sort. I’m not sure what my purpose is at all, but it’s a good way to figure it out!

How has being both in front and behind the camera in your work helped you be in front of the camera in other people’s projects?

It’s helped me understand what looks good in front of the camera and general directions. It’s nice to have the different perspectives of what happens in a shoot and to be familiar with the language.

What are some of your all time favorite films?

I love Harold and Maude and anything Agnes Varda - she’s my favorite director of all time. Also anything by Rohmer because his films are beautiful and so thoughtful. That’s my favorite part about films, that they can be so simple, but still so stunning. It’s the beauty of moments in everyday life.

Who are other photographers inspiring you at the moment?

Honestly, my peers. We have such a creative generation. My friend Sabrina - her work is great. I love the people she finds to photograph.

What should we keep our eyes out for in your future?

The two films I’m releasing in the next couple of months! I’m also hoping to get a few of my girl friends together to work on writing a few scripts this summer. There aren’t enough roles out there that we want to play-  so I figure, let’s write them ourselves!


How would you spend your ideal Sunday?

I normally love going to museums, but I just moved into a new apartment with my boyfriend. Right now on my ideal Sunday I would just stay in, paint the walls white and set up my new home.


Interview & videos by Carly Smith

All photos and paintings by Mirella Cardoso