How creativity saved Maya Baran’s life

Highlights

Born in Jerusalem and based in New York, Maya Baran has always used creativity to make sense of the world around her.
Her career began as a photographer before she turned to film to dive deeper into people’s stories and her surroundings.
When she was diagnosed with cancer at a young age, Maya realized the necessity and urgency of creating, as well as the healing power of her work.
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Finding empowerment through the lens

Maya Baran’s advice to all creators is this: never stop choosing to do what you love, because you never know when that choice might be taken away.

Born in Jerusalem and based in New York, Maya is an experimental filmmaker, director, and photographer. Through her work, she aims to reveal her subject’s authentic selves and explore the intricacy of human connection. Maya makes sense of life through her camera’s lens and finds solace and healing through her work. 

Maya describes herself as an introvert and has always used creativity as a way of making sense of the world. As a child, she was always drawing, painting, or writing and when she wasn’t doing that, she was watching people. She soaked up her surroundings like a sponge — absorbing interactions between people and picking up on their body language, energy, and mannerisms. 

Her early years have shaped the way she works today. Her vast catalog of films and videos focuses on the intricacies of human nature and how we interact.

Maya first picked up a camera when she was a teen. Her high school specialized in art and design, and she was instantly drawn to the photography department. She’d always felt a deep need to hold on to beautiful memories, and with photography, she could finally do it. 

Her father had an old A-1 Canon film camera which he used to document their family life, and he happily gifted it to her once he noticed her new passion. She spent the next few years either taking photos or in a dark room, documenting her life in Jerusalem and turning the outside world into art.

“I just fell in love with this machine,” Maya reflects from her apartment in New York. “It felt so powerful, spiritual, and a little metaphysical. There was something special about the immediacy and the simplicity of it.”

For Maya, just the act of holding a camera felt empowering. “Once you set up a camera, it affects the energy in a room. It affects the interactions people have, and that was very alluring to me.”

A shift in perspective

Once Maya graduated from high school in 2008, she joined the army as a military photographer. That’s when she started working with digital cameras, and gained access to some of the best equipment in the world. “The military was a way for me to segue into working with really high-quality gear at a relatively young age and improve my technical abilities at the same time,” Maya says.

A shift from film to digital wasn’t the only change Maya experienced. Before the military, Maya was mostly taking candid photos of people around her and shots of life in Jerusalem. But the military was like a different planet. “A lot of the time I was in combat zones or in dangerous situations and having to operate a lot of very heavy equipment,” Maya says. “Ammunition, guns, helmets, and just a lot of gear all the time.”

Maya’s subject matter shifted, too. She was suddenly thrown into extreme situations and had to execute her job under vast pressure. “So the camera became synonymous with adrenaline and action, and represented something totally different than before,” says Maya.

This experience shifted Maya’s approach to documenting the world around her. She found herself looking for tender, human moments within those extreme situations, and that stayed with her once her service ended. She also came to understand the limits of storytelling with just a single frame, and that led her to explore the world of film. 

After working under such immense pressure, Maya was able to indulge in time and space and dwell on the quiet moments. Her work started to focus on body language, light, expression, and what people do in between the action —because that’s where she feels the truth lies. “I would say my voice as a creator is focused on human interaction, tenderness, kindness, daydreaming, and taking time,” Maya says. 

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The creative journey

Since 2011 Maya’s worked with brands, musicians, and artists to help them visualize their stories. Her talent as a music video director is exceptional, and she regularly creates experimental and ethereal moving images for artists from all around the world and all types of genres. Her video for Gili Portal’s “The Observer,” for example, explores the intersection of man, animal, and the environment. Filmed on a ranch, the slow-motion, lingering shots dwell on the interaction and communication between man and beast.

Maya’s music video for “Not Easy” by Benjamin’s Brother won best music video at the Los Angeles Short Film & Script Festival in 2019, and was selected as a finalist for 31 Girona Film Festival and Los Angeles Cine Fest. The video was shot on a frozen lake in Siberia, a space about 3 times the size of Ireland. Maya used drones to depict the full scale of the landscape and showcase beautiful patterns on the ice. 

In the video a man treks across the glacial landscape, fighting against wind and snow to reach his destination. The video opened the door for many more experimental projects and was a pivotal moment in Maya’s career. “I remember standing on this frozen lake thinking this is what filmmaking got me to do,” Maya says.

Maya’s creative process always starts with a feeling, which leads to a visual, which leads to a frame. Her background is in fine art, so she’ll map out the visuals with a mood board before working on a script. She often incorporates music in her sketching, even if the project isn’t a music video, as it helps her visualize the piece. Although she loves to plan, Maya also welcomes mistakes. “I always try to give myself room for experimentation,” she says. “In a shoot, I allocate time for messing around and having fun and seeing what happens.”

The healing power of creating

Maya’s relationship with Artlist began in 2022. She was curious about the music catalog and emailed the team to ask some questions. Artlist checked out her film portfolio and asked Maya to become one of their Artlist Original’s directors. Their first project was scheduled to come out in mid-2022, however, a few months beforehand, Maya was diagnosed with cancer.

“Being diagnosed at 32 was a really heavy blow,” Maya says. “And because my job is so physical I was worried about being able to continue doing what I love.” This experience made Maya realize, that she was put on this planet to create, and she shouldn’t take a single moment for granted. 

“It just became clear to me that this is what I love to do, and this is what I should be doing,” Maya says. “Knowing that I will be able to operate a camera again, be on set again, be a director, and do all the things that I love again pulled me through that dark time.” 

As Maya went through treatment, she found herself planning her next projects, including her upcoming work with Artlist. It gave her something to focus on while she went through difficult procedures, and allowed her to imagine better days ahead. 

“It gave me a sense of urgency to create, and an urgency to get back to my life and be where I love the most, which is on set and behind a camera. For me, creation has healing powers and healing abilities.”

Once Maya was able to get back to work again, she threw herself into her Artlist projects. The first production was a return to Maya’s roots — documenting the humanity of New York’s residents in a street-photographer style. Creatively speaking, it felt like a homecoming for many reasons. 

Maya’s family is originally from New York, so it always felt like her second home, but when she moved there from Jerusalem in 2018, she saw the tough side of the city. It could be terrible one day and amazing the next, but those special, unforgettable New York moments were almost always a result of the surprising characters and locations she stumbled across by accident.

Maya says the vastness of New York City, alongside the grand architecture, is a major source of inspiration in her filmmaking. Amongst the gargantuan buildings, the question of what it means to be human amongst that comes to the fore, enhancing the stories she tells. That’s demonstrated in all of the New York-based films Maya’s created, including the first project she made for Artlist. 

“The first Artlist project really allowed me to dive into what I love the most, which is casting people and finding special characters with a strong energy, style, and presence about them,” Maya says. “And I was given full creative freedom to do that.” 

The casting process took a long time, with Maya searching for a variety of New York characters while steering away from clichés. Maya cast a woman in her 70s who dances on the streets of New York daily and a real-life brother and sister playing together. “The project was a combination of the things I really enjoy — people, location, and beautiful natural light.”

That set the precedent for Maya’s fruitful relationship with Artlist and hours of beautiful stock footage for the community. And because her cooperation with Artlist coincided with her healing journey, it felt like a re-birthing of sorts and an opportunity to see her work and purpose in a new light. 

Maya’s message

“After all this, my message for other creators is to never give up on what you love to do,” Maya says. “Yes, it’s a hard industry and demanding both physically and emotionally, but just go for it and don’t waste time.”

Maya urges the Artlist community to try things even if they might not work out, to get out of their comfort zones, and seize the moment. “If you wait until you have perfect conditions you’re prohibiting your progress and stopping yourself from creating,” she says. “Going into the unknown will always lead you to be better at what you do. So if I had to summarize that in one sentence, I’d say have faith in yourself.”

Above all, Maya sees creativity as a healing process and urges her community to harness that and use it in their work. “Let your creativity take you through the dark times you encounter, and be the light that carries you through.”

Many creatives limit themselves with expectations, comparisons, and second-guessing. But if Maya’s learned anything from her journey as an artist, it’s that the secret to success is breaking down the barriers we impose on ourselves and setting our creativity free. “Get your work done, tell your stories, use your voice,” says Maya. “Don’t let your fear, insecurities, or inhibitions get in your way. Movement and action are always better than being stagnant, afraid, and insecure.”

Maya directs this thought towards women in particular, as gender imbalance within the film industry is rife. “We need more women in the industry because a female perspective in this world is something that should be cherished and honored,” Maya says. “So any female directors — get your stories made and do what you love. We need your voices.”

Watch Maya’s story:

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