Art & Culture

Photographer works to capture honest reflection

Marisa Duran began by capturing milestone moments of infants while working at a day care center.
Marisa Duran. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Marisa Duran. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Photo courtesy of Marisa Duran.
Photo courtesy of Marisa Duran.

On her way to earning a badge in photography, Hollister photographer Marisa Duran picked up a camera for the first time when she was in the Girl Scouts.

“I thought I was so cool,” Duran said. “I felt so artistic and expressive at the time. I was a really quiet kid, and it was a great way for me to observe the world.”

Duran’s interest in portrait photography began when she was an undergraduate student in Los Angeles, working in an infant/toddler day care program with children aged three months to three years.

“They were mostly the children of professors at the school,” she said. “And they would be there for most of a 10-hour day. For some, I got to see their first times crawling or walking, and I got to hear their first words. I began taking pictures of these things so the parents could see them too.”

Duran started working out ways that her photos of these milestones could tell a story.

“The more I did it, the more I thought, ‘This is what I want to do all the time,’” she said. “I took some classes, and my husband is also a photographer, so I would help him now and then. But then I put it down for a while after I had children and didn’t pick it up again until we moved to Hollister 11 years ago.”

She resumed photography as a hobby and soon found herself with a business created by word of mouth.

“I was always taking pictures so people knew me from that,” she said. “They would say, ‘can you take our pictures?’ As more and more people heard of me, the more work I was getting. People would ask me if I could take preschool pictures or family portraits—things like that.”

Longtime customer Casey Watson began working with Duran a year before she officially opened her business and studio in 2014.

“I chose not to do the regular school photos for my kids and use her instead,” she said. “She has also taken photos of them at the county fair and our family barn working on their 4-H projects. She does a great job catching them in their natural elements, and the personalities of the kids shine through. She doesn’t pose them. She just talks to them and lets them do their thing.”

Soon after opening her business, Duran became involved with the San Benito County Arts Council, beginning with exhibiting her work as part of a group show of local photographers.

“It was the first time it occurred to me I could do something besides family portraits,” she said. “That opened my eyes to working on personal projects related to other things that interested me.”

After that first show, Duran was involved in the project to decorate Hollister’s utility boxes. The theme of her box was children and the arts. The finished box is located at the corner of McCray and South/Hillcrest streets.

Photo courtesy of Marisa Duran.
Photo courtesy of Marisa Duran.

“I wanted to do something that would reflect children’s because it is not very well represented in the community,” she said. “I spent two weeks shooting photos for it and I looked for a variety of interesting ways that they express themselves.”

Her next large project was an outdoor art show undertaken a few months into the pandemic, honoring essential workers. Watching her mailman deliver mail got her thinking about all of the workers who, at that point, were considered essential and not subject to stay-at-home orders.

She began photographing these workers and the resulting exhibition, “Compassion and Courage: Our Frontline” was held as a drive-by event on three nights in May 2020, with 25 portraits projected onto three two-story Hollister homes.

Her next project with the Arts Council is still in the planning stages but will involve another digital installation by Duran around June of this year.

“We are looking into some ideas,” she said. “I have some clear ideas about the stories I can tell with my photography about the experiences people have had going through the pandemic.”

In all of her work, whether personal portraits or art installations, Duran is interested in photography that is an honest reflection of the people who are her subjects.

“Even in my editing, I try to be true to life,” she said. “When you look at a portrait of a person, it gives you a chance to pause and consider their expression and what you can see of their story. I think photography is different from other forms of art. There is a certain amount of interpretation, but it is more reflective. It is a way for you to slow down and look at a single aspect of someone that you might have not seen before.”


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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.