Maria Ziegelböck has made quite a name for herself. Over the past few years, the photographer has shot campaigns for Vivienne Westwood and Roland Mouret, and regularly contributed to renowned magazines like SZ Magazin, Zeit Magazine and SSense and 032c among others. Famous for her unconventional portraiture, which often features theatrical characters wearing extravagant costumes, Maria has spent the past few years perfecting her melodramatic photography style while adapting it to a variety of commercial and editorial clients.
Despite Maria’s undeniable artistic success, portrait photography can be traced back through her family history. “I was born and raised in the Upper Austrian countryside where my mother ran a local business for portrait photography,” Maria tells It’s Nice That. “So I have been involved with photography in one way or another since as far as I can remember. I am actually the fourth generation of photographers in the family.”
Maria’s latest campaign for Mühlbauer Millinery — which boasts famous clientele like Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep, Madonna and Yoko Ono – is just one of many examples of the Vienna-based photographer’s particular aesthetic. Made up of eight portraits of both men and women, the campaign draws inspiration from farmers and agricultural workers. “I proposed to shoot this collection on elderly people because I wanted to challenge the conventional commercial images that are surrounded by day by day. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t flatten or degrade the subject, farming, by which the collection was inspired. But I still wanted there to be a humorous twist,” Maria says. This isn’t the first time the photographer is shooting for Mühlbauer Millinery. In fact, the series builds on a number of equally atypical campaigns – like, for example, a project that features surreal, clown-like characters dressed in fashionable statement hats.
One of Maria’s main – and unexpected – references is historical portraiture. Drawing on the legacy of artists like Leonardo Da Vinci and Pisanello who used symbolism to represent their subjects, it is important for Maria that her portraiture offers an insight into the characters she photographs. “I wanted to make sure there was a vibrant mix of personalities and emotions in my photographs,” Maria says. Despite catering to a large number of commercial clients, Maria’s strength lies in her ability to construct intriguing and compelling characters despite the brief. In the case of the Mühlbauer Millinery SS19 campaign, for example, Maria’s photographs of individual characters add up to an intriguing narrative that leaves a lot to the imagination.
When asked what she hopes viewers will take from the series, Maria jokingly replies: “that they want to buy a hat.” But Mühlbauer Millinery’s SS19 campaign achieves a lot more than this. The assertive drama that the characters Maria’s photographs convey leaves the viewer amused and intrigued. And it is this theatricality that renders her photographs so memorable.