Mimi Mollica and the art of storytelling
By Deborah L Smyth
Posted on 11/3/2020 11:00 PM
This was an evening we had been looking forward to for many months. We were expecting inspiration galore and guidance on our storytelling projects. And that is exactly what we got.
Having spoken at the club before, Mimi Mollica greeted his old friends effusively, with virtual hugs and handshakes, and soon us newer members had also relaxed into his relaxed and confident talk.
Mimi was born in Sicily and is now based in London. That said, his photography has taken him to many parts of the world, including Pakistan, Brazil and Greece, plus Senegal for his En route to Dakar series. Much of his works covers social issues, and that is certainly the case with his well known and highly regarded Terra Nostra. This book is the result of a 5 year project to capture and document the damage imposed by the mafia on Sicily and its people.
Mimi talked us through a wide range of his work, with people forming a strong focal point, with fashionistas in East London, residents in Brazil’s favelas, people impacted by social decline in Athens and Sicilian immigrants in North London. Standing out a mile from these projects, though, was his recent Moon City series, shot from his balcony with iPhone through the viewfinder of a telescope. A fascinating topic, and an unusual angle on lockdown.
What stood out most for me, was Mimi’s closeness to his work. He spoke of his involvement and inclusion in his projects. The idea of nipping in quickly and shooting from the hip stands a long distance from his preferred method of working. Whilst he does choose to use a small and indiscreet camera for his more candid shots, he still wants to feel the connection with his subject. He pointed out that we should not be eluded by the idea of a totally candid image: we are there and are bound to have some impact. The important point is to understand our place in the story we are telling, and to get a real feeling for what we are shooting as we study it through the viewfinder. I’m sure some of us agreed with him, when he said he believed shooting with film boosted that feeling, adding a shiver of unknown to the capture process.
Mimi moved on to give us some guidance in our own story telling. He talked about the variety of stories we might tell – they might be based around a concept or a culture or about something more aesthetic. The stories do not have to be long, and do not have to consist of photos take over months or years. He felt that some stories can be told in as few as three images.
An element that we all are aware of as being a difficult and key part to the story process is the sequencing of the images. And there is no easy model to follow. Different styles will work with different narratives, we just need to find the most appropriate “visual language”. His key to the sequencing was trialling different approaches, and seeking the views of others. Images need to printed and shuffled and pulled into different orders. A sort of sanity emerging from chaos. One specific tip he gave was to try pairing photos, and then consider the dialogue between the two images. There was only one strong rule that he issued, and that was “never open with the strongest image.”
On that note, I’ll close these notes. I go away determined to follow his encouragement that we all stay curious, inquisitive and open-minded, and that we allow ourselves to step right into the story we want to tell.