Welcome to our very exciting interview column on theappwhisperer.com. This section entitled “A Day in the Life of…” is where we take a look at some hugely influential, interesting and accomplished individuals in the mobile photography and art world… people that we think you will love to learn more about. This is our 113th installment of the series. If you have missed our previous interviews,please go here.
Today we are featuring Maria E Gjonaj, born in Salerno, Italy while her parents, defectors of the Albanian totalitarian communist regime, were waiting to be granted political asylum to the USA during the early 1960s. Gjonaj’s parents were subsistence farmers, her father was a political agitator in the northern hills of their country. They came to the USA without knowing a word of English, and settled in the Bronx, NY, where they raised Maria and her four other siblings. She grew up within two very different cultures, and surrounded by multiple others during the turbulent 70s in NYC. This and being diagnosed with a rare cancer in the early 70s before the huge advances that we have today(she was cured) were a huge influence in the trajectory that her adult life would take.
She went on to university to study nursing and specialized in Pediatric Intensive Care —a career, vocation, that she loved with all her heart. While working in Boston, she also went on to become an advocate for heightening awareness of child abuse and teen-on-teen violence. Mid-career, she was diagnosed with a medical condition that would hit the pause button on her career and that again would change her life’s direction.
It was during her recovery, among other things, that she began to listen to the creative whispers that she had neglected during her busy working years. She began writing poetry, reading it publicly and purchased her first camera—modeling her older brother’s love for the written word and the photographic image. She eventually joined an artists collective in Boston that exhibited regularly. She has traveled extensively throughout the 48 contiguous United States and throughout Spain—a country she and her late life-partner enjoyed visiting for extended periods and sharing their mutual love for photography during their travels together. She loves foreign languages and also speaks Albanian and Spanish. Admittedly, getting rusty in Albanian which she hopes to polish up when she some day visits the country of her ancestors for the first time.
We just couldn’t wait to find out more, we are so delighted that Gjonaj agreed to take part in this interview. You’re going to love this!
Under each image you will find the title and a list of all the apps used, links to these apps are at the end of the article.
(If you would like to be interviewed for our new ‘A Day in the Life of…’ section, send an email to Joanne@theappwhisperer.com, and we’ll get back to you.)
‘Selfie’ – ©Maria E Gjonaj – Apps Used – Hipstamtic, Dramatic B&W
‘Arches National Park’ – ©Maria E Gjonaj – Apps Used – Camera+
Let’s start at the beginning of the day, how does your day start?
My day begins with, “it’s morning already?!” Once I accept this reality, the first thing I do, weather permitting, is take my dog Stormy out for a walk. I use this time to check in with myself and my Higher Power to discuss how I think He is doing. LOL. For those reading this: I use “He” for simplicity sake. It’s my belief that the Higher Power of my understanding embodies all the attributes of both genders–and a whole lot more.
But, the truth is that I first check in with myself to learn how my body and spirit are doing. And then have a chat with my Higher Power. I begin with a gratitude list—however short on some days—and then a discussion of whatever is going on for me at the time. During the inclement weather seasons my walks are pretty short. I then come home and do the Morning Pages, as suggested by Julia Cameron in her book, “The Artists Way.” I find doing these 2 activities really helps to clear out, or at least reduce, those thoughts and concerns that sometimes keep recycling themselves over and over again. On those days when I have to bolt up and begin the day, I have this “off-center” feeling all day. I then make my green morning drink while turning on my computer to check email. Sometimes I then jump right to Facebook to check in, and other times, if I need to get other things done, I wait until later in the day.
‘Bay Flower’ – ©Maria E Gjonaj – Apps used – Hipstamatic, Dynamic Light, PhotoToaster, PS Express
Do you like to head out and take photographs early on?
It truly depends. I go through phases where I need to witness and capture a sunrise. In the winter, to capture the the snow that has fallen the night before. I’m more apt to venture outside in the early morning during the mild season months.
‘Mono Lake, CA’ – ©Maria E Gjonaj – Apps used – Camera+, Photowizard, PS Express
How did the transition from traditional photographer to mobile photographer develop? (pardon the pun)
It snuck up on me and grabbed me with a vice grip and will not let me go! Seriously, I tend to be a late adopter of technology. I was among the last of the people I knew to get on the internet and correspond via email. I went from analogue to digital photography with much reluctance. But I adapted quickly once I experienced the myriad options digital imaging and processing had to offer. What completely sold me regarding mobile photography was the fairly sudden death of my mom from a fatal heart attack in 2011. I’d purchased the iPhone 4 just one week before. She lived for 3 days after the MI. While she was sleeping, I was able to capture images of her hands and also of my hand holding hers during this time—I will these treasure forever. The urge to do these photos came spontaneously and I would not have brought in my other cameras to do this.
‘Dandelion Seed’ – Olloclip Macro – ©Maria E Gjonaj – Apps used – Hipstamatic, Photoviva, Photowizard
Do you like to download new mobile photography and/or art apps regularly?
I go through phases. Although I have about 50 photo app’s on my phone (yeah, I know that’s paltry compared to what others have!), as you’ve seen in my work, I tend to not app too much beyond enhancing. I struggle with this. I’m so inspired by the incredible works of art done by other mobile photographers who use multiple app’s, layering and coloring, and compositing to create masterpieces. Yet, with my own photography, because I grew up in a chaotic and decaying NYC during the 1970s, surrounded by drugs and crime, my drive has been to find the truth of what life really is or can be. Beauty, looking for it, documenting it, and sharing it with others has been the driving force behind my need to photograph since the beginning. And so drastically app’ing doesn’t come naturally to me. Yet, when I do take the time to learn the app’s, experiment with them—I revisited older photos and app’d them for this interview(!), I see again and again how visually and emotionally more appealing and evocative an image can become.
‘The Deep Green’ – ©Maria E Gjonaj – Apps used – Hipstamatic
What is your preferred platform, Apple iOS, Android, Windows?
‘Winter in the Colorado Rockies’ – ©Maria E Gjonaj – Apps used – Hipstamatic, Dynamic Light
Would you consider changing platforms and why?
In this moment, no.
‘Golden Gate Bridge’ – ©Maria E Gjonaj – Apps used – Hipstamatic, Dynamic Light, Photowizard
How often do you update your existing apps?
It depends on the app. I’ve noticed that updates sometimes shorten my battery life and if it’s an app I rarely use, sometimes I use the reminder to delete it! But there are some app’s that I like to keep updated at all times.
‘Golden Gate Bridge’ – ©Maria E Gjonaj – Apps used – Hipstamatic, Photowizard
What are your favourite photography apps and why, what features do you look for in a new photo app?
Hipstamatic is my favorite app. It’s the first one I purchased and I love all the myriad combinations that one can use to create a different look and mood. I also love sharing this enthusiasm on the Hipstamatic Facebook pages. I’ve met some wonderful people, some that I now consider friends, on the those pages. Watching each other experimenting with different combinations has also helped me fine-tune my photography skills, in general, I believe. Camera Plus is my favorite standard camera app. They’ve come a long way in developing the in-app post processing capabilities. Photowizard, Dynamic Light, PS Express have been my mainstays for enhancing my images. I’ve recently re-discovered Phototoaster—which I used to revisit some images for this interview and I love it. I highly recommend anyone who has not used it in a while to check it out. Ditto for PS Express if you haven’t used it in a while.
‘Golden Gate Bridge’ – ©Maria E Gjonaj – Apps used – Hipstamatic
Where’s your favorite place in the world for a shoot and why?
My favorite place to shoot is where I happen to be in my every day moments. Documenting my life. I never plan a photo shoot. These last couple of years I have traveled a lot, moved across this country, and I’ve been very fortunate to be able to stand amidst some of the most beautiful landscape here in the US.
‘Great Salt Lake Flats’ – ©Maria E Gjonaj – Apps used – Hipstamatic, Dramatic Black and White, Phototoaster, Photowizard
Where do you like to upload your photographs to – Flickr, Instagram etc?
I don’t subscribe to Instagram. And I have a Flickr account but I rarely use it. I have accepted generous invitations from people like yourself who are leading some exciting and creative groups, but I’m finding that I get too overwhelmed. Giving inadequate attention to a group doesn’t feel good. Most recently, I’m posting to just two groups and occasionally a third group on Facebook.
‘Light my Path’ – ©Maria E Gjonaj – Hipstamatic, Dynamic Light
Do you use your mobile phone everyday to take images?
Oh yes. I have to be completely swamped with the details of daily living for me not to capture at least a few images.
‘Spring in the Colorado Rockies’ – ©Maria E Gjonaj – Apps used – Hipstamatic, Phototoaster, Photowizard
Do you like to use external hardware products with your mobile device for image and video capturing, such as lenses, tripods, external storage and battery packs? Please elaborate as much as possible.
I use the macro component of the Olloclip. I did have a mini-tripod that got lost in the shuffles of traveling that I plan to replace as soon as possible. In addition to online storage sites I use 2 external hard drives for storing. In 2012 I lost several hundred images and since then I’m very careful I’m quite interested in getting the blue tooth wireless shutter release component to use with macro’s and night shots. I have very few images that I’m happy with in these 2 categories because of camera stability issues. I’ve not checked in recently on how well the telephoto lens development is advancing. A good quality one is also high on my list.
‘Sea Oats, Point Reyes, CA’ – ©Maria E Gjonaj – Apps Used – Hipstamatic, Photowizard
Do you edit images on your mobile devices or do you prefer to use a desktop or laptop computer?
I use both. I tend to want to download them onto my laptop to see what I have and then go back to my phone and edit. Sometimes it’s a laborious back and forth process(!) because what I think is great on my phone does not translate once I look at it on the big screen. I don’t yet own an iPad—of all equipment updates, this is at the top of my list.
‘Tomato Seedling’ – ©Maria E Gjonaj – Hipstmatic, Dramatic B&W
Where do you envisage your mobile photography passion will take you? Have you been involved with exhibitions etc? Please elaborate if you can.
I truly cannot say at this time. I also love to write. While living in Boston, I went through a several year phase of writing poetry, where I really spilled my inner world’s guts out, read publicly, and even did features around town. I’ve been in the midst of writing about my nursing experiences. These two passions along with others like cycling and gardening compete for my time and energy. I also believe, like many other folk, that some passions are to remain free of the pressures of “performing.” My mobile photography work has been selected for Hipstamatic exhibitions here in the US and also Italy and Portugal. I’d love to give a shout-out to Jeff Burgess, who runs the Hipstamatic World page, along with Roberto, Maria, and Simone at Hipstamatic Sardinia on Facebook. It was through their organization and leadership in creating these pages, in the early days, that I encountered safe places to learn about mobile photography, and very importantly, share my work with some great people. My submissions have also been accepted in two different juried contests here in the US in San Diego and Denver. I submitted to two contests last year and was not accepted(!) Ouch—-but I have to admit that I did not put the work into refining and elevating my skills. I believe it’s a reflection of my ambivalence about whether I want mobile photography be a personal passion that I share within a “limited world” or do I take it to the next level which involves exhibitions, competitions.
‘Omstead Point Yosemite’ – ©Maria E Gjonaj – Apps Used – Camera+, Photowizard
Do you also enjoy shooting videos with your mobile phone? If so, what do you do with them? Have you considered uploading them to our Mobile Movies Flickr group?
I’d love to learn more about shooting videos. It’s a matter of carving out the learning curve time.
‘Paonia’ – ©Maria E Gjonaj – Apps used – Hipstamatic, PS Express
Where do you see the future of mobile photography?
I see it growing exponentially with no known boundaries. As your website and Flickr groups attest. As many others have said, it’s something every one can do, and it’s what I love most about this medium. At the same time, I truly believe conventional camera photography will also thrive. I plan to get back into the dark room. I miss it very much at the same time that I love working with my iPhone. Instead of a zero sum game, I view art and our world as limitless with room for everything that our imaginations want to pursue.
‘Pink’ – ©Maria E Gjonaj – Hipstamatic, Photowizard, Photoviva
What do you think is the most popular area of mobile photography?
Hmmm. I think they’re all developing so rapidly. Street and nature would be my guess.
‘Spring 2014’ – ©Maria E Gjonaj – Apps used – Hipstamatic, PS Express, Phototoaster
Do you think it’s country specific, are some nations more clued up?
This is not something I pay attention to until I read the interviews here at app whisperer! I see incredible images from so many people from all over the world such that this question does not come up for me. “Of course the WHOLE world LOVES mobile photography!”
‘St Hilary Church’ – ©Maria E Gjonaj – Hipstamatic, Dynamic Light
If you could select a specification for a mobile smartphone, what features would you select, photographically speaking?
Either aperture or shutter speed control hardware. Without a doubt. I’ve too many shots with blurred bright foregrounds. Just the other day I experienced this again while trying to photograph flowers in the neighborhood. I don’t think the software is there yet.
‘Sunrise’ – ©Maria E Gjonaj – Apps Used – Hipstamatic, PS Express
What do you think of Joanne and theappwhisperer.com?
I think that Joanne and the website she has created—-since the very early days—are a gift and asset to countless mobile photographers all over the world. Frankly, what I love most is her passion. Just reading her introductions to a body of work is a joy. They’re filled with a palpable and genuine love and respect for the medium and the people creating it.
Joanne, thank you very much for this opportunity to participate in this interview for your wonderful site. You asked questions that gave me ideas to reflect upon. It inspired me to explore my images again through the lenses(pun) of some different app’s. My mind feels more open and my view expanded as I finish the last questions. Thanks again.
Maria, thank you very much for this incredible interview, thank you for sharing so much, love your spirit.
‘Surfing Companions – ©Maria E Gjonaj – Hipstamatic, Photowizard, Photoforge