The Arts

August 22, 2013

Michael Mascha: Revolutionizing Nude Photography


Have you ever considered the camera is the most unimportant thing about a photographer’s work? If so, you share the opinion of photographer Michael Mascha who believes it is the eye of the photographer together with proportions, shapes and light that matter; because, according to Mascha, “photography is like painting with light.”

Michael Mascha was born and raised in Vienna where he earned a PHD in Food and Visual Anthropology from the University of Vienna. Michael and his wife Erika lived for several years in the island of Fiji where Michael produced the documentary Seven Seeds of Plenty which landed him a teaching job at the University of Southern California.

In the dawn of the World Wide Web, and after two years of teaching and living the bohemian lifestyle of an anthropologist, Michael and a team developed very influential and innovative internet projects. In 1994, he realized it was time to make some money with the knowledge of the changes that were happening, and started an information architecture company which, at the time Michael retired in 1998, had over ten thousand employees worldwide.

Soon afterward, this restless anthropologist started a software company he managed until 2006 when he started a new life and relocated to Harlingen, Texas, upon discovering the Valley’s subtropical weather, affordability and cultural diversity. “Some parts of the Valley remind me of the 1950s Florida; you move into a different time and space here, and there’s a high quality of life,” said Michael who expressed his appreciation of a diverse cultural surrounding where at least two languages are spoken, “I could not live in a place where everybody looks and speaks the same.”

The couple moved into a home with an immense lush tropical backyard surrounded by tall ebony trees, palm trees and native plants bordering stone walkways and a tranquil pond-like pool. Erika refers to their backyard as their personal oasis. It is this subtropical oasis that inspired Michael to produce his first two exhibits titled Muse.

His latest photograph collection, Mermaids, took two years to complete and is composed of 40 color photographs. It is currently on exhibit at the Harlingen Arts & Heritage Museum through August 3rd, 2013. This time, the summer and the water in the pool were Michael’s inspiration. The main difference between the two is that unlike Muse where models posed standing up, models in Mermaids were photographed floating in the water creating a completely different effect.

Nude photography has been around since the 19th century, and in modern times it is mostly done in black and white using shadows to achieve a level of abstraction. Michael uses the out of focus technique to reach the abstraction level in a color photograph where most is left to the individual’s imagination. “These are not glamour shots, but we are doing something unique in color that looks great in large prints,” explained Michael who never uses Photoshop to enhance his work. For Mermaids, he used a Nikon digital single lens camera that was perpendicularly mounted allowing him to move the lens in every direction. Bright colored tropical flowers and pool noodles provide the splashes of color Michael used to emphasize his work.

The greatest challenge has been finding models who will pose nude. Erika has been his longest working model. “I am his biggest fan,” said Erika when asked about her feelings toward her husband photographing women in the nude. “We grew up where a nude body is a natural thing.” For the first Muse exhibit, Mike worked with only one model. Mermaids is composed of eight models including Erika. Mermaids is about women in their own space without any reaction of each other nor the viewer, for they pose for themselves, and allow us to observe them.

A former model with a degree in fashion design, Gabie Conner loves personal challenges, and posing for Mermaids was a challenge she couldn’t pass, for she had been skeptical about the artistry of nude photography. When she saw Michael’s work, she realized her skepticism came from her lack of knowledge of this particular manifestation of art. “Mike is one of the best artists of modern times, because he can capture everything in one click, and that’s it. Just like with master sculptors from long ago who had no room for error, Mike’s photos are the result of one single shutter, no editing, no Photoshop. I find that fascinating,” said Gabie with great admiration.

With the support of her husband, Gabie went to her first photo shoot where she said she felt safe and comfortable. “Mike and Erika are incredible professionals; I don’t know how they do it, but I never felt nude.”

From the spectator perspective, Michael’s photographs tap on the human need to complete things, and to close circles according to Gabie. The out of focus effect of his photos invite the spectator to interact with his work; to complete a personal and unique version of each photograph.

When preparing for the opening of his exhibit in Harlingen, Michael admits to feeling somewhat nervous, because he was unsure about people’s reception. “I am very amazed at how people reacted, for I was expecting a mixed reaction, but only two people expressed a problem,” he said.

Michael hopes to take Mermaids to hip places like Helsinki, Shanghai, Copenhagen and Barcelona where he is starting to enjoy a good reputation as a professional photographer.  Interestingly enough, Michael has encountered universal reactions to his work. What people in the Valley express is very much in tune with the opinions of people from around the world.

He plans to call his next photography collection Motel where models will acknowledge the presence of the photographer a bit more. Poses will be more provocative, and shot in closer spaces. The more the acknowledgement, the more dressed the models will be presented. He is also planning a photo shoot in Shanghai using an IPhone.


Michael and Erika’s life in the Rio Grande Valley has been far from dull, for they have been instrumental in the creation of Harlingen’s Farmers Market. Furthermore, Michael manages a global bottled water business out of their home and enjoys fly fishing.  He recently designed an elegant stemmed water glass and continues with plans for more photography exhibits.

“I want to keep that level where nobody is offended, but where people can have a sensual experience. I want to create something nice and atmospheric – I do not want to offend anybody with my art,” concluded Michael.

For more on Michael Mascha Photography.


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About the Author

Tapia - Gonzales
La Vida Valle is where I write about "la vida" living in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Life, art and culture, poetry, prayers, travel, and camping! yes, that's my new thing. I blame the heat and high humidity for the madness. Contributions and comments are always welcome .


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