For Maria Alejandra Cardona, photography is a language. It’s a method for communication and telling stories. That technique is something she’s made into a profession, working as a freelance photojournalist based in Miami.

“(Photography) speaks to many with just powerful imagery. Photojournalism not only reaches the world but it really touches my heart and soul,” she said. “You’re not seeing only seeing what’s happening in the world, but with my imagery, you see what I’m experiencing first hand and how it affects me.”

Her work has been published in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Reuters and various other outlets through The Associated Press. But before she was having her images shared in major publications, Cardona was a regular student, learning how to hone her craft in school.

“I went to an art high school and started photography sophomore year. During my senior year, we had to complete our senior thesis and mine was an art installation about immigration,” she said. “The piece was portraits of immigrants in my community and the portraits were written on to let the viewer know where the subject was from.”

Cardona’s work was well received and honored with a number of awards. It was this experience that lit the fire, showing her how photos can make an impact on the world.

“With this piece I created a portfolio and won Scholastics Art & Writing awards with a gold key,” she said. “I realized my work could speak to the public and create a conversation.”

As Cardona continues to share her work and spark dialogues, she also enjoys sharing her experiences through speaking engagements. One of those will take place next week right here in the Golden Isles. She will present a program at 7 p.m. June 20 at the Coastal Photographers’ Guild meeting held at Glynn Visual Arts, 106 Island Drive, St. Simons Island. The meeting is open to all, regardless of membership status with the guild.

It will be Cardona’s first visit, one she’s looking forward to making.

“I’ve heard wonderful things from family and friends who have visited St. Simons. I’m more excited about seeing the amazing people that are interested in photography and are allowing me to speak to them,” she said. “I’m obsessed with water: oceans, lakes, rivers, etc. and I can’t wait to see the coastal lines itself.”

For members of the guild, hosting a speaker as accomplished as Cardona is an honor. Jillisa Milner, president of the organization, says the group is excited to absorb what she has to share.

“I believe in the saying that a camera looks both ways: Every photo contains something of the photographer who created the image. So I am excited, and our guild members are excited to learn from Maria about how she is able to put so much heart into her images,” Milner said.

“Her photos are powerful and full of story. All of us can learn from that, whether we’re photographing birds or our family members, landscapes or weddings. I think Maria can help us move beyond the gear and technical settings for taking pictures and into a mindset of creating photos with emotional impact.”

That is something each member of the guild strives to do in their own work. And those efforts will be exhibited at the guild’s upcoming display, The Big Photo Show. The opening reception for the show will begin at 5 p.m. June 27 at Glynn Visual Arts.

But that won’t be the only place to view the work this year. Milner said that there will be other participating locations that will host exhibits. There will be a showcase at the Golden Isles Welcome Center, 529 Beachview Drive, St. Simons Island, which will feature, “the best of the best.”

“The Best of the Best, with previous years’ winners on display at the Golden Isles Welcome Center on Saint Simons; and The Big Photo Show Too!, which is our exciting new exhibit at Butch Paxton Gallery and Creative Frameworks in Brunswick,” Milner said.

The opening for the Brunswick display will be held during July’s First Friday festivities, beginning at 5 p.m. July 5.

Milner says that all three locations will offer inspiration for locals and visitors alike.

“People should come to all three exhibits to see a diverse collection of styles and subject matters captured by our incredibly talented guild members. It’s a chance to see work you can’t see anywhere else.”

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