Mayan Toledano is the Israel-born, New York-based photographer making waves with her pastel dream world aesthetic. A trained ballet dancer, Mayan has been fascinated with the human body and how it moves from a young age. But at 18 years old, she gave up her dreams of becoming a professional dancer, and moved to New York to pursue a career in photography. Still very much focused on the concept of body image and the female form, Mayan's work offers an intimate portrait of womanhood in all its beautiful facets. For The Family Values Issue she photographed model, activist and all round superstar Hanne Gaby Odiele, at her apartment in New York. Here, she shares with us her experience.
How did you discover photography?
I used to be a dancer but in high school I would always go and lurk the dark room and photo department at our school. I remember considering switching majors back then but ballet took up so much space in my life that I decided to put it off. In university I studied fashion design and everything we were meant to produce felt so expected that photography was my way to escape it. It's funny because I never felt like I should study it or take it seriously, but it was always there as an outlet for me.
What is it about photography that appeals to you?
I enjoy directing so I think it's mainly that, thinking about how everything will come together to make a story or evoke a feeling.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Sweet and tough, passive and honest.
Your work focuses mostly on women, what is it about girlhood and the female form that you're trying to convey?
Growing up as a dancer I was surrounded with all this power and knowledge of my body that kept me free of a lot of social expectations. I think that's how I learned to see the body for how it operates rather than how it looks or being perceived. I like to look at the body for what it does and doesn't want to do. A lot of my photos depict women being bored or passive and I think it's an important tool to use for saying it's okay, we don't have to perform all the time. The female body has already been fetishised in so many ways that it's comfortable to just see it be.
What was it like working with Hanne Gaby Odiele?
I was super excited to work with Hanne after seeing her intersex video, Her strength and honesty are so inspiring. We shot at my house so it immediately felt cosy, I love her energy and how comfortable she was.
Who would you most like to photograph?
If you could change one thing in world what would it be and why?
For people to have more empathy, it can solve a lot of the racism and cruelty going on in the world right now.
What are you working on at the moment?
I'm going to shoot a look book for my life muse and friend Erin Mgee of MadeMe NYC. She's the most effortlessly cool person I ever met and I'm so excited to be collaborating with her again.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
To feel loved and protected.
Text Tish Weinstock
Photography Mayan Toledano