Mimi Mollica is a photojournalist whose work appeared in the CR Photography Annual last month. Here, he talks about this latest project, documenting the building of a new Autoroute in Dakar, Senegal, that will transform the lives of those who live around it and travel on it
CR: Can you tell us a little bit about your background as a photographer and which subjects interest you?
MM: When I moved to London at the age of 20, I new I wanted to become a photojournalist. I started assisting the architectural photographer Helene Binet, learning a great deal from her and her amazingly powerful images. Helene taught me how to respect photography and how to approach the world around us that we long to communicate through photographs. The Magnum book In our Time, on the other hand, pushed me towards social documentary photography, which is the environment I chose professionally.
After having worked as Helene’s assistant, I threw myself in body and soul to achieve a career as a documentary photographer. A few assignments helped me out in gathering both experience and self-confidence but I had to wait quite long time before I could see any rewarding result, in terms of photographic achievements and professional recognition.
In the past few years I have been working on assignments around the world, but a major breakthrough came with The Observer Hodge Award 2005, when I achieved second place with a story on the aftermath of the atrocities that we sadly experienced with the London bombing of 7/7.
More commissions from British and international magazines and NGOs, a number of solo and collective exhibitions and few more competitions successes have encouraged me to carry on shooting what I find of interest in our society.
What excites me about my work is that by photographing documentaries, current events, social issues or more generally the human condition in today’s context, I feel more part of the world we live in, trying to share my vision with others and participating to the global debate on which direction we are taking as a global community.
CR: Why did you chose The Dakar-Diamniadio road as a subject?
MM: While working on other projects in Senegal and Dakar in May 2007, I was attracted at first by the surreal landscape of the edges of this city in the middle of a drastic transformation. Bridges were being built and new roads laid down, and what caught my attention was seeing people crossing this road, the Autoroute, to travel from one side of Dakar to the other, or to sell stuff from goats to phone cards, engaging in some kind of activity or just more simply taking a stroll. All of this while, in the surroundings, entire new quarters were rising by forcing themselves in-between informal settlements of all sorts, plant nurseries and an in-city nature reserve.
CR: What intrigues you about it?
MM: I soon learned that the Autoroute, undergoing a massive reconstruction plan, is also the only way to enter or exit Dakar, therefore I thought that by waiting, looking and photographing in such a bottle neck, I could eventually get in touch with a considerable part of Dakar’s social landscape.
Also, by talking to the people I photographed, I realized that every single one of them wants to emigrate to Europe. So the Autoroute became for me not only a physical place, sign of change and engineering progress, but it started also appearing to me as a metaphor of a way out from something, as synonymous for escape.
CR: By documenting the building of the road what do you hope to achieve?
MM: I hope to freeze this moment of transition and change in Senegal’s history and the people who are part of this broad context. I try to understand how progress in Dakar and the will to escape from it can fit together. Maybe it’s difficult to explain in words, but this is the reason I am taking pictures.
CR: Were there any particular difficulties/challenges on this shoot?
MM: Dust in the camera has been a tragedy. Apart from that, I struggled a lot in trying to convince people not to get angry at me because I was taking their photographs. I thoroughly discussed my project with the ones I encountered during my photographic journey, I shared my views with theirs, sometimes I spent entire days talking and not taking any pictures, even if I wanted to, but by respecting one another I managed to create a bond that surely helped the final outcome of this, like it helps any other photo-essay I work on.
CR: Can you talk a little about how this particular project fits in with the rest of your work in Dakar – what is the long-term goal for the project?
MM: The two main projects I have been working on while in Senegal the Autoroute and the one on the Baobab trees. At first sight, they may seem very detached from one another, but I don’t see it this way. The Autoroute essay deals with change, travel, escape or something anyhow precarious while the Baobab series shows something still in time, sturdy, sure and long-lived. One deals with people and urban scape the other mainly with nature, respectively they have been shot one in colour, the other one in black and white.
However, if I think of the two stories together, I can see not a separation but a dialectic going on between them, maybe they could represent the two sides of a coin, or more simply, just two complementary perspectives on themes that are part of the global debate on migration and the environment, with respect to a country like Senegal that is increasingly taking ground towards Europe.
Ideally, I would like to see my work from Senegal resulting in a book, which, by turning it upside down back to front, would include the two photo essays.
CR: What’s next for you?
MM: I am going back to Senegal next November, to try to see if I can gather more high-quality images.
Then, I hope, the best