Photography is a universal language, just like music. It crosses borders and prejudices and can stop us in our tracks. One photographer whose work has inspired me for a number of years now is Mimo Khair.
I first came across Mimo’s work on Instagram back in 2012. She, based in Shanghai, and Michael Kistler, based in Tokyo, were on Instagram and between them they had this ping pong game of posting images going. These were no ordinary shots they were creating; these were stellar shots. Very often I am asked what photographers inspire me. I could give the cliche answer and list off the names of the masters, but in reality it is people like Mimo, Michael and Serap who positioned me on the journey I am on today. I have a lot to thank them for.
From Instagram, I jumped on to Mimo’s Flickr feed (if you have not done that – do it now – you are in for a real treat) and photograph after photograph was just better and better. Here was someone who connected with her environment in a way that meant she saw how ordinary things can be seen in extraordinary ways, but it is her ability to connect on a human level that allows her to create striking portraits.
Enough from me. Let’s hear from Mimo and see her wonderful photography.
Mimo, thanks for taking the time to do this interview and to share you work here.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I was born in Lebanon to a Lebanese father and American mother. My childhood was a happy one despite the civil war that undoubtedly left its mark on my memories as well as my outlook on life and values. I left Lebanon after graduating from the American University of Beirut in 1987 to New York City where I lived for 16 years. There my love for art was born and began blossoming. I live currently in Shanghai with my husband and 11-year-old daughter where I practice photography professionally. I love reading, travelling, art, people, music, and good conversation.
I studied Geology, Archaeology, Acting, Art and Photography.
Tell us a little about your photography journey?
It began in New York City in 1996. I got my first camera (Pentax), and started practicing with a friend and photographer of Vietnamese origin who lived in NYC at the time. It was the days of analogue, long hours in the dark room and being very selective and careful with every frame I composed. Instantly photography and I became inseparable; wherever I went the camera went too. From the beginning, photography for me was a means of communication with the world. I presented my work in schools, forums, lectures and slideshows around New York. From the beginning, street photography was the main direction for my photography. I wanted to be where people were. I began to receive more global recognition via Yahoo and Flickr who chose to highlight my work on various occasions. I never sought out recognition, but welcomed it when it came to me. I have been living in Shanghai since 2006, and that has been a great catalyst in my recent work. I have been photographing for almost 20 years, and yet I feel that my journey has just begun.
You shoot in a variety of styles; how would you define your style?
I like to think that my style can be free enough for me to redefine as I go. I don’t limit myself to one traditional style or another. I love to experiment and I vary my style considerably. Nevertheless, I believe that there is a line running through my work that defines it and reflects my art in a way that I cannot describe in words.
What gear do you shoot with?
Canon 5D mark 3 with a variety of lenses, Fujifilm x100t and iPhone 6
What would you say to those who say the iPhone is not a real camera?
If it takes photos, it’s a camera. I am not a fan of strict definitions and limitations. I have always kept an open mind. A friend photographer convinced me to go with iPhone photography (Michel Katstler) and since then my fun with photography multiplied.
Your portrait work is particularly impressive. What is it that draws you to your subjects?
My experience with photography is very organic. I don’t plan my walks. I let my instinct drive me and when I connect to someone it is unavoidable. I feel a tug to take the photo and most of the time it is a very exciting process. I enjoy every second in the streets with people and I let the camera capture what I feel.
What is it about street photography that appeals to you?
I am fascinated with life. I wake up inspired almost every day and I look forward to seeing what the day brings. Photography only intensifies that inspiration. I love the streets because that is where the theater of life happens. We are living on this planet, walking, talking, working, loving, feeling, and in that we are the same. I walk the streets looking for resonance to what I feel and experience. I am often drawn to another human and feel moved to capture their living moment, so I do.
Tell us about your photography process? Do you have a fixed idea of what you want to create or are you open to what you might observe?
In the street I am mostly open to what is there that day and that moment. In the studio or with my models, I plan ahead and try to create an idea or concept.
Do you have any projects in the pipeline?
Apart from ongoing projects, I have an upcoming solo exhibition at Wallstyle gallery in Duesseldorf, Germany this April through mid May. It’s a very exciting project featuring innovative printing and framing techniques.
Tell us a little about your workflow; do you tend to post photos immediately or let them marinate? Do you use many apps on the iPhone; what are your favourites?
I am very impulsive at times and if I love a photo I would post it and share it immediately. But with some projects I wait and edit and re-edit until I am satisfied. I love revisiting my archives too. There are always too many images that get put aside till later.
I do use apps on the iPhone. Mostly Snapseed, Mextures and Noir.
How important is the aspect of fun in what you do?
It is incredibly important. I enjoy photography so much and I never feel the time passing when I am working in it.
You do a lot of photography workshops. Tell us a little about that, please.
I have been teaching small groups in Shanghai for over 6 years and it has been extremely enjoyable. A few years ago I met with Michael Kistler via instagram (a photographer I respect highly for his talent and person), we embarked together on a project that he named ‘finding yourself in the streets’. We designed 2-day street photography workshops where we shared our love of photography in a comprehensive and very fun way with people in different cities around the world (Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Dubai, Beijing).
What do you consider to be the biggest mistake you learnt from in photography?
Not starting earlier in life with photography.
Is there still a mistake you make?
I don’t judge myself too hard when it comes to photography. I love doing it and I enjoy the freedom I feel inside the love of it.
What do you feel you want or need to learn to improve in your photography?
I believe I learn everyday from fellow photographers. I am watching their work regularly and it is a wonderful kind of kinship inside this art.
How important is a human element in your photos?
I am constantly seeking the human element to tell our human story. I often opt for the image that has it over the one that doesn’t. Of course there are always exceptions.
Do you have boundaries in terms of the type of people or scenes that you shoot?
My main rule with photography as well as life in general is ‘do no harm’. If I feel that my image will do that I don’t take it.
Some people have the opinion that photographing people in public is intrusion. What’s your take on this?
It is a subject discussed and over discussed in the world of photography. I follow my instinct and if I every feel that my camera is not welcome I do not approach. I always try to put myself in the situation of my subject and there are times when I want to be photographed and others when I don’t. I think it is not as black and white as it is sometimes made to be. It is a human interaction and sensitivity is key.
For many people, candid street photography can be hard, as they fear the reaction people might have to being photographed. What has your experience of this been like?
Candid street photography is the most enjoyable style for me. I love people and I believe that they can read that. If you approach with hesitation, people tend to react negatively. I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy photographing people in the street.
What do you feel has helped you most to develop as a photographer?
Support from family, friends and other photographers. Books are a great inspiration as well as travel and meeting new people and cultures.
What advice would you give to an aspiring street photographer?
Try to do a 365 project with daily photography walks in the streets. Nothing makes you grow as much as practice.
If you could choose somewhere to shoot in the world, where would it be?
New York City.
Who are the photographers you admire?
I love the work of photographers who cause me to pause, look, think and feel. Artists who are able to break boundaries while telling a new story in their unique style inspire me. The list is long.
Where can people find your work?
Is there something I have not asked that you would like me to ask you?
No, I think you have been pretty thorough!
Thank you very much for the interview and for the constant inspiration your work provides me on a daily basis.