Photography and film duo The Masons tells compelling stories of human existence and beauty
Donna-Marie and Maruska, who are based in London, “challenge outdated notions of beauty with honest and empowering representations of people of colour.”
- Ruby Boddington
- 6 January 2022
Donna-Marie and Maruska Mason, AKA The Masons, are a creative duo in every sense of the phrase. Working with photography and filmmaking, the pair, who are a couple outside of work too, bring their distinct backgrounds together to create a unique style and narrative. Nature, relationships, the range of human emotions and also the beauty of diverse skin tones form the basis of all Donna-Marie and Maruska’s work, leading to a portfolio that feels honest and raw, whether communicated through fine art, advertising, editorial, portraiture or beauty photography.
Raised in Tooting, London, by a Jamaican mother and Guyanan father, Donna-Marie found herself at London College of Fashion before pursuing a career in costume design for film and TV. Although it began amazingly, she “started to feel unfulfilled in that creative space and it was tough as a Black female costume designer to be taken seriously and get work.” She also “wanted to be more in control of my creativity,” which is what led her to turn her photographic hobby into a full-time job. Maruska, on the other hand, is from Slovenia and studied law at university. Despite this, she “always felt a more genuine connection with creativity and self-expression,” and at a certain point, it seemed silly for the duo – who have been a couple for 14 years – to not pursue their creative interests together. “We wanted to start telling our own stories our own way and we decided to partner together in creativity and business as well,” Maruska explains. “Our photography and directing work is a blend of two very different worlds that we come from but with a very unified message and visual approach.”
The fact that Donna-Marie and Maruska share a vision is clear across their portfolio; their projects feel linked to one another and share multiple key themes. “We love projects that tell stories and also projects that challenge the norms and champion unconventional beauty,” Donna-Marie says. This is particularly true when it comes to representation within photography. “As a Black woman,” she adds, “I love to create images of love – the love of skin, the love of women, the love of men, the love of relationships between human beings. Showcasing Black skin, the beauty, the richness, the details.” This focus on skin is what creates The Masons’ visual language and concepts, one Maruska describes as “intimate, bold, some would say a bit dramatic but yet simple and timeless.” Buoying Donna-Marie’s point, she concurs that “skin is key“ explaining how “this comes from our unapologetic engagement with dark skin, but also all different shades of skin. We love and celebrate the beauty of melanin – we see it as our responsibility to do justice and show the beauty of melanin and different skin tones.” In turn, she points to a “relaxed sensitivity” across their imagery which is important to them. This approach is what, it seems, makes their work feel so authentic – as if we are viewing genuine moments and connections between couples, friends and family.
GalleryThe Masons: Eunoia (Copyright © The Masons, 2021)
A series titled Eunoia seems the perfect coalescence of all the intentions behind Donna-Marie and Maruska’s endeavours. A personal project, it was shot by the River Thames on a sunny day and features a cast of young Black men, aiming to tell their story and speak to the beauty of vulnerability. “Young Black men are continually being labelled negatively, with constant stories of knife crime, drugs and causing trouble,” they tell us. “We wanted to show a vulnerable, playful side, hanging out by the river, at the park enjoying their natural surroundings.” The Masons created a safe space free of judgement on shoot day and the images prove just that – there’s a carefree nature to the series in which their models are depicted smiling, having fun and laughing.
Another series titled The Orchard expresses similar sentiments but also exhibits the duo’s love of collaborating with others. While much of their work stems from their own ideas, the concept behind The Orchard was creative director Rosie Bonnar’s. The series is set on, as the name suggests, a fruit farm; it explores femininity among men, once again aiming to convey a sense of “openness” while “celebrating human connection, humour and fun, drenched in the energy of summer.” It’s safe to say they achieved these goals as the shoot, which took place as the UK emerged from its first lockdown, abounds with effervescence – that beginning of summer feeling where anything seems possible and excitement fills the air.
While The Masons strive to document human connection in all forms, what’s also apparent through their imagery is the love both Donna-Marie and Maruska have for their mediums. Both speak enthusiastically about the entirety of the photographic and filmmaking processes, from ideation to collaboration and “the buzz of the whole shoot day.” It’s perhaps this passion that resonates most through their work as each frame is filled with passion and joy. Fittingly, then, the pair hints at several exciting projects on the horizon, starting with a trip: “Once a year we try to book a few weeks somewhere where we’ve never been before where we just focus on creating personal work, and that’s the plan for the start of 2022,” they say, finally adding: “We also have a solo exhibition coming up in London next year on a subject that’s very close to us.”
The Masons: Eunoia (Copyright © The Masons, 2021)
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.