Visionary View

Photographers are as commonplace as Kodak film. Artists who use a camera to create provocative images of cultural merit are as rare as a Mona Lisa smile. In this age, where almost every moment is captured on film, pixel, or tape, it's easy to lose sight of the important contrast between snapshot takers and vision makers.

"It's funny, I was just thinking about that last night," says Maria Gabriela Diaz, who makes fine art out of images using a decade-old 35-millimeter Pentax. "My mom is a painter, and I guess I have her genes because I tried painting. But I was a lazy painter, a mechanical painter. Fortunately I was steered toward photography."

Before she found her path creating richly textured, mood-altering images, Diaz, 29, took a detour from which many never return. After graduating from Miami High, she landed a job at a bank and began earning decent money for her young age. "My mom made education a priority," Diaz says. "But she was a single mother and there were money pressures, which cause emotional pressures."

Fate's fine hand steered Diaz in 2001, when she was laid off. "I thought, Now what?"

Diaz returned to school and was lucky enough to engage teachers who nurtured her calling. "I didn't want to settle, and photography was sort of a love-at-first-sight thing, so I went right back to it," she explains. "The professors helped me fall in love with it again, helped me to see things differently."

While others may describe the 25 stills in her first major exhibit, which will hang for the next month, as nudes, she says "Moods" is a better description. "I try really hard because I know there's a fine line between what's sensual and artistic and what's sexual. I chop things up and try to be abstract, so no one sees the whole. Using myself can be very time-consuming, but it's easier to express what I want. I know exactly what I want."

Diaz's vision is drawn to contrasts; to the disparity and harmony between the rough and jagged with the smooth and fluid. Her work at Miami Dade College qualified for several student exhibitions and in 2003 she won a Frances Wolfson scholarship. She also landed a few gigs, shooting for a music company, weddings, and advertising. She plans to continue the effort to master her craft at FIU, partly because "Miami's about to explode," she says. "I guarantee it, 100 percent. I want to graduate and then freelance, and I want to do it here." -- Greg Baker

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