Patty Maher’s surreal world

When Patty Maher was a seventh grade student, her art teacher advised her to stop pursuing art in school because she had “no real artistic talent.” Today, this Canadian photographer has more than eight thousand followers on Flickr and a strong portfolio of self-portrait and fine-art photography.

There is Always Hope

She discovered this passion five years ago, while building a list of things in life she should try. “Photography was the second thing on the list. The first was collage making,” she said. “As it turns out, I’m not a great collage maker. Once I got to photography, I fell in love and never made it to the rest of the list.”

Patty’s surreal compositions are inspired by different stories; some come from well-known pieces of literature and others are inspired by real-life. “Many of the ideas for my photos come from things that happen to me in life, or things that I hear about happening to other people… then I take whatever part I’m caught by and try and give it a bit of surreal spin,” she said.


Part of the secret to Patty’s unique work is the importance she gives to details. The costumes, the colors, the movements are all areas of intense focus for her. “I think they really make or break a photo so I spend a good amount of time planning them out,” she explained. Although she is the one in charge of doing all the styling, she credits the Canadian second-hand store Value Village for most of the wardrobe she uses in her shots.

She also mentions her husband: “He is also a photographer and has a great eye for detail so I show him my photos when I get close to the final edit and he is excellent at spotting things that could use a final tweak.”

When taking a photo, Patty works with different versions of her initial idea. “I almost always speed shoot because I like the subtleties that can be captured with movement, and I often take hundreds of shots in a session,” she said. Post-processing is work that can take her from minutes to hours, but she says she always likes to leave the results settle for a day or two before making the final edits.

The hills

We asked Patty about the story behind this shot she said,“That photo was taken at the Cheltenham badlands, located near where I live in Caledon Ontario. One day I was driving by and I suddenly got this picture in my head of many people lying on the hills… almost as if they were part of the landscape. Later that evening I went back to take the shot. This is a very popular location, so I was definitely not alone taking this shot, and I’m sure people wondered what the heck I was doing as I laid down over and over again in various spots”. She takes the situation with humor: “I think people tend to be ok with ‘crazy’ in the pursuit of art.”

A Prayer for the Wild at Heart

Among all her self-portraits, Patty picks “A Prayer for the Wild at Heart” (a title that comes from a line out of “Stairs to the Roof” by Tennessee Williams) as her favorite one, although, she said, her favorite shots change all the time.

“For me this photo is about the cages I find myself in living a grown up life in the 21st century. There is a part of me that has a desire to let go of everything: job, family, possessions, the bonds of social norms and expectations and simply walk the Earth experiencing life free from all the ‘cages.’ But despite that desire I continue to work at my job, maintain my house and live a more or less traditional life,” she explained. “What I like best about the photo is that, even though it depicts someone within a cage, you can’t get past the fact that the act of creating photographs allows me, even briefly, to act outside of those traditional cages and do things like drag a shopping cart into a field and photograph myself sitting inside it.”

She Holds the Key

Patty is working on a new series and discovering underwater photography, although she has more ideas in mind.

Take a look at her photostream and her self-portrait Flickr group. And if you want to learn more about one of Patty’s favorite Flickr groups, you may want to Get Pushed.