Q1/ Can you briefly introduce yourself and tell us a bit about how you work / your approach to photography?
Actually, this is not an easy question to answer. I came to photography both early and late!?! I grew up with my father being an avid ‘amateur’ photographer and although I had my own camera from a fairly young age, I did not establish my own photographic practice as such until after studying fine art painting and working for a number of years as a gallery curator.
I sometimes describe my approach as ‘looking around corners’. In other words, I do not look at things head-on as it were, but in a manner that suggests there is also something unseen out of view that might in fact be the true subject of the work. This I believe is very much how we experience architecture.
Q2/ These photographic works, specially commissioned by The Mosaic Rooms, were taken in the summer of 2013 during your trip to Mogadishu (Somalia’s capital city), with Somali-British architect Rashid Ali. Can you tell us a bit about the challenges you faced whilst photographing there?
For a multitude of reasons, many far to complex to explain here, my visit to Mogadishu was both intense and profound. What has to be recognised is that this was the first time I have been to Africa and certainly the first time I’ve visited what might be described as a ‘conflict-zone’. Not that these facts themselves were necessarily the most challenging aspects of my trip. Firstly I was made to feel very welcome and was looked after well by Rashid and his generous friends in Mogadishu. This was a very different way of working for me. I usually work alone often in remote locations and after considerable research and planning. To some extent I was working ‘blind’ and having to respond very quickly to what was in front of me. This was hard work in itself but very exciting. I was working perhaps much more in the manner of a ‘photo-journalist’, something I wouldn’t usually consider myself. This was very satisfying. Also I generally don’t ‘do people’ (and deal more with their traces). In Mogadishu, even though we were visiting sites mostly cordoned off from the general public, I did not have the luxury of being able to leave people out of the images. I am now so pleased this was something I had no choice but to confront.
Otherwise, my programme was very limited on a number of counts. Access to sites was limited, my ‘security’ was not always available, and I physically could not be out in the sun for more than 2-3 hours max. I therefore had to work very fast and was in the hotel for the rest of the time. Fortunately, not only could I relax watching the Tour de France but I was able to shoot video from my hotel room window, something that allowed yet another way of observing the city. Despite the frenetic nature of life on Mogadishu’s streets the ‘slow’ contemplative nature of these films is very much ‘my thing’..!
Q3/ What do you hope these photographs will tell us about Mogadishu?
My visit to Mogadishu confirmed for me the social potential of architecture and I hope my pictures help people recognise this potential in the context of situations like Mogadishu today. I would like to refer to a quote by Nietzsche I recently came across. “Of what use, then, is the monumentalistic conception of the past, to the man of the present? He learns from it that the greatness that once existed was in any event once possible and may thus be possible again.”
To find out more, join Andrew Cross in conversation with Michaela Crimmin and Eugenie Dolberg, at As Seen from Here (26 March, 7pm at The Mosaic Rooms), firstname.lastname@example.org.