Alien-to-Alien: The Galaxy of Music Photographer @thesupermaniak
When Maria Jose Govea (@thesupermaniak) travels, she brings along a companion. He’s short, has brown, wrinkly skin, an infamous index figure and was the star of a beloved ‘80s movie. He’s also an alien.
“I carry [the] E.T. [doll] with me all the time. He’s just very symbolic to me,” says the 35-year-old music photographer. “It’s funny because a lot of people hate E.T. They’re like, ‘He’s so weird. He creeps me out.’ Really, you don’t like E.T.? What’s wrong with you?”
Like Spielberg’s creation, Maria considers herself a bit of a loner. However, her origin story begins a bit closer to earth. She works by herself and leads an untraditional life –– a nomad who travels with musicians, takes their pictures, stays out late, then comes back to edit the final photos until 8 a.m.
After growing up in Venezuela, Maria moved to Toronto to study film, but ultimately wanted something else. With her visa running out, she decided to take up photography. By then, she had been throwing parties and DJing on her own, posting pictures of the events to her Myspace page. She soon built a solid portfolio and started getting freelance gigs at an alt-weekly in the city. Even then she didn’t know much about photography –– or the politics and stage rules that came with it.
“I was just shooting like there was no tomorrow,” she says. “I only had a fisheye lens. Everything was fisheye –– a fisheye and a flash and I was just going wild and shooting and getting people’s faces and DJ’s faces. But somehow I was making content that people were really relating to. So I started taking it seriously. I started learning a lot, and I started shooting rock and indie shows and buying different lenses and shooting from afar and trying different angles and really thinking about it. At the same time, I always go with the flow and follow my gut.”
Around 2009, Maria would meet a then-relatively unknown Skrillex, who discovered her thanks to the work she did with the DJ 12th Planet. When Skrillex came through town, he would invite her to shoot on stage. They became fast friends, and she’s continued to travel with him over the years, including a recent train tour across Canada.
“He became one of the biggest stars in the world,” says Maria, of Skrillex. “It’s unreal to be so close to everything that he has done. It’s also been great to see how he stayed exactly the same. He has not changed at all. He’s stayed really humble. Everybody loves that kid. Everybody asks me, ‘Oh, you’re friends with Skrillex? How did that happen?’ It’s weird because to me he’s just Sonny. It hasn’t sank in, I guess.”
As Skrillex’s career has grown, so has Maria’s approach to photography. She’s more interested in shooting the intimate moments on tour: musicians hanging out after hours, or prepping behind the scenes, or skateboarding on their off days.
“The more and more I get to know these DJs, the more access I have to them,” she says –– and she’s right. Not every photographer gets to sit in the observatory car of a train at three in the morning with the world’s biggest DJs and an E.T. doll and watch as the northern lights pass by in the distance. When you have opportunities like that, it’s hard not to go with the flow.