Q: Please introduce yourself! What are some of the roles you currently occupy in your life?
My name is Maria Wurtz and I’m a photographer, photo editor, producer and creative director. Working within the photography industry, I always say you have to wear a thousand different hats. I went to college for photography at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City. As a student there, I started interning at Rolling Stone magazine, which I like to say was my big break. After graduating college, I went on to work for them full time as a photo editor and producer from 2019-20. On top of this, I’m the founder and editor-in-chief of Sugar Magazine, which is an intersectional feminist magazine that I created to help people struggling with eating disorders and self-love.
Q: Tell me about the experience of working for the biggest magazine in the music industry — Rolling Stone Magazine. How did you find out about this opportunity?
At FIT, in order to graduate, you need to participate in an internship. I’m a very ambitious person, so I wanted my internship to amount to something bigger than just being an internship. I found the job posting on Indeed.com — it was completely random. I applied, heard back, went to the interview and a few days later they notified me that I’d been selected and I started working there soon after.
The experience was amazing. I fell in love with it, I experienced such a thrill shooting live music and big music festivals. At the end of my internship, I asked them if I could continue to work there, which was when they offered me a full-time position as a photo editor and producer. I did most of the cover shoots for the magazine between 2019-20, which was quite the whirlwind. I don’t think anyone’s really prepared for what you get thrown into it, but now I always say that I’m overqualified for anything that comes my way. I worked at Rolling Stone, so now I can do anything.
Q: It’s incredible that you’ve achieved these opportunities so early in your photography journey. What inspired you to pursue photography in the first place?
I always knew I was going to be a photographer. It started when I was very young — I was always in the arts. My dad is an artist in his own way, and my mom has not a creative bone in her body, but they both equally encouraged me to pursue my art. When I got my first camera, I fell in love with it. I’d always make my friends do photoshoots with me. I got more serious about it around middle school, when Tumblr got big. Tumblr was a defining moment in all of our teenagehoods, and I remember needing to take those Tumblr style pictures. As I got into high school, I always say I owe my career to Mr. Booth, who was my photography teacher. He took me and my work very seriously, which made me take myself very seriously, even at a young age.
At the time, I was really struggling with my eating disorder, and photography was the best outlet for my self-expression at a time in which I really needed it. I started experimenting with self-portraits around that time, and they quickly became my favorite way to express myself. I went to community college for a few years because I wasn’t completely sure if photography was what I wanted to do as a career, but finally I was like, “Who am I kidding? Of course this is what I want to do!” and went on to enroll at FIT to study photography and related media.
Q: What are your favorite environments to do photoshoots in?
I always feel most inspired when my subject is in nature. I especially love shooting near the ocean. It took me a long time to feel comfortable shooting in a studio because it made me feel very limited. When I’m outside, surrounded by nature, I feel very at peace and I believe my subjects do as well — I feel connected to my subjects and they’re connected to their surroundings. I love working with the natural light in outdoor shoots because I can’t control it, I just have to work with it, whereas in the studio I can control anything. I prefer natural light because it’s more of a constant challenge, and I have the guarantee that I’ll create something different every time, depending on the time of day, or how the light decides to shine on my subject. I always hope my work has a kind of dreamy quality to it, and I really feel like I can’t go wrong shooting in nature.
Q: Describe your favorite photo you’ve ever taken. Why is it your favorite?
In community college, I had to do a documentary photo series, and I chose my grandma as the subject for it. My grandfather had just passed away, so I was living with her and documenting her through my photographs. There’s this one photo of her that I don’t think she’s ever seen — it’s not on my website, and it has rarely seen the light of day — but it is my absolute favorite. We had both been sleeping on the pullout couch in her living room, and she was sitting on the edge of the couch, in her robe and slippers, having a moment by herself. I happened to have my camera with me as I watched from the doorway. The room was dark, her eyes were closed [and] the TV light was lighting up her face in blue and green hues. It’s the most incredible and raw image. It was a very memorable and emotional moment for me amid such a dark time in our lives.
Q: What I’ve found most inspiring about your work as a photographer is how your subjects are always captured in an effortless and vulnerable state. How do you achieve this kind of intimacy in your shoots?
I always want my images to feel raw. I never want someone to look at one of my photos and think the subject looks uncomfortable. What I really try to do is connect with my subject on an emotional level, regardless of how well I know them or how little time we’ve spent together. Before starting the shoot, if it’s someone I’m not entirely comfortable with, I try to befriend them. I simply love humans. I love photographing humans. When I take these photos, it’s with love, and I always hope that shines through and that they feel loved and respected through my lens. If I want to take a photo of you, it’s because I love you, even if you’re a stranger.
I love when my subjects are able to talk to me, laugh and move around so I can capture candid moments. Sometimes it becomes hard. In some shoots for Rolling Stone, I’d only have a few seconds with the subject, but I always just tried to transpire as much kindness and gratitude as I could. Hopefully I was able to make them feel good for those few seconds.
Q: You’re the founder and editor-in-chief of Sugar Magazine. Tell me more about this company and what inspired you to create it.
While in community college, I worked with my professor Carolyn Monastra on a photo documentary series surrounding eating disorders and feminism. I drew inspiration from Lauren Greenfield, who is the photo-documentarian behind “Thin,” a documentary series about eating disorders. I was inspired to turn my documentary into a magazine after watching “The Punk Singer.” This movie is phenomenal — it’s where I first learned about the Riot Grrrl movement within feminism. In the movie, the riot grrrls made fanzines, which is where I got the idea from. I wanted to make a fanzine that was more of a coffee table book, much like Petra Collins’ “Babe.”
Q: What are some goals and aspirations you have for Sugar Magazine in the long run?
I went on a bit of a hiatus with Sugar Magazine when I started working at Rolling Stone, but I’m ready to bring it back. Overall, I don’t think any other magazine exists with the mission of helping women recover from eating disorders in a non-straightforward way, which is what I hoped to achieve with it. My whole mission was to create beautiful art that could help us not sit around thinking about calories. What I hope to achieve in the long run is that Sugar becomes a lasting legacy of amazing, talented humans that create art and love themselves so fiercely. When I first started Sugar, it was so heavily focused on eating disorders because I was struggling a lot with my own, but now I’m fully recovered from it, and I think my goal and mission has changed. I’m ready for Sugar to talk about recovering and self-love.
Q: What is the significance behind the name Sugar Magazine?
My professor and I were going through books and magazines and highlighting words that stood out to us as potential names for the magazine. Somehow, we found the word “sugar,” and we absolutely loved the irony of making a magazine about eating disorders called Sugar. It was ironic because it’s sweet and addictive. I’m a sugar fiend. I love sugar. We who struggle with eating disorders fear sugar. We deny it, but it’s also so sweet and pure. After a while, the name just stuck.
Q: What is a message or piece of advice you’d give to anyone reading this?
I believe opportunities are infinite. I always say, “You can’t even imagine the opportunities that are coming your way.” I truly believe that. There are so many things that have come into my life that I actually couldn’t have ever fathomed, and they’re here. That’s the beauty of life. You can’t even imagine the amazing things that will happen for you. We have so many years. As short as life is, it’s also really long, and you have so much more time than you think. I get emotional about how much I love being alive. I really hope anyone who reads this and wants to become a photographer or artist of any sort knows that the possibilities are truly endless, and you will always get your time to shine. As long as you continue pursuing it, it’ll happen for you.
You can keep up with Maria’s content on Instagram @mariawurtz and @thesugarmag, and visit her website to check out some of her work.