Based in Italy, Mimi Mitsou is a truly talented artist and photographer whose work emits a creativity that is resilient, bold and original. When asked how she’d describe herself, she replies, “I’ve always thought that it’s very complex to describe oneself, but there is one thing I’m certain of: I am a sensitive person, and a dreamer to the point of madness.” And it is this element of the surreal that blends perfectly with simplicity that showcases her photographic brilliance. Emaho spoke with Mimi Mitsou, the dreamer.
What are your earliest memories with a camera?
Creative people can have an existence of latent creativity or develop it in certain areas of their lives, which have little to do with art. However, sometimes destiny allows some means to express ourselves. That happened to me at university where I studied Art History specialising in cinema and photography in the 1990s. That was the very beginning, but I didn’t know it then.
Where do you gain your inspiration from?
I don’t consider my work to be path breaking, at least in an artistic sense. My education has given me a perspective which many young photographers lack nowadays. That’s why I am not only aware of the fact that self-portrait or nudity are not a novelty, but also I am not ashamed of saying that nothing I am doing would have been possible, if it hadn’t been for the influence of Francesca Woodman’s work in my life. And I wouldn’t have been myself at all, if I hadn’t seen the pictures of Michael Ackerman, Ed van der Elsken, Lina Scheynius, Imogen Cunningham, Jacob Aue Sobol, Mario Giacomelli or Anders Petersen, among others. There is some kind of boldness in choosing nudity and self-portrait in a society which hasn’t really finished fighting its taboos. Many of the people I am surrounded by don’t know that I do this kind of photography. On the other hand, I’ve found that many photographers use nudity just like a simple exercise or just like a provocation. I guess it is kind of bold not to follow any of those trends.
What made you choose to make your body your canvas?
My interests are so many, that time escapes me. I work as a teacher and I have to divide my little free time into several hobbies, such as painting, writing and photography; not only as a mean of expression, but also as an object of investigation. This fact has determined that I have to work on many things simultaneously, and that I have a very limited space to develop my creativity. Most of my work has been performed at home and not in the most convenient conditions. The concept of my photographs is conceived as I live, and it is put into practise with certain spontaneity. I need a ‘here and now’ which would be very complicated to carry out with another model, and apart from that, I know from experience that expressing what I want, with the exactitude I need, is not easy when I am not behind the lens. I cannot find the truth I seek through anyone else but me, since my photographs are very introspective and they talk about very personal and emotional aspects, so intimate that I find inexpressible in other ways.
Nudity in painting and sculpture has always been considered artistic but the same has been scorned when it comes to photography. Why do you think so?
The acceptance of nudity has always been determined by the moral considerations of the society in which it develops. However, photography has added an aspect which has made the relationship between this and other subjects challenging: it’s bound to reality. Without delving into it, the truth is, as Barthes pointed out that nobody can deny that unlike with other artistic disciplines, the models are shown with all their truth to the photographer. This fact multiplies the violence inherent in the most controversial subjects, among which nudity is still found.
Who has been your greatest support in encouraging your work?
My husband, without a doubt; on the one hand, he lives with me and has to resign himself to see how our time is part of a schedule, as everything else. On the other hand, he is a professional photographer, who has taught me how to capture most of the world that I imagine.
Pick your favourite photograph from your work.
I am very critical with my work, and I find it difficult to evolve without looking back with distrust. However, the fact that most of my work is autobiographical (although not at the extent in which this idea is usually understood) has allowed me to develop important links to certain creations, including photographs. But I think that I would choose the image in which I am holding one of my cats, I have my back to the lens and she is looking straight into it. It was one of the first photos I took with my Nikon and it shows much about what my future work will be: truth and aestheticism.
Have you had any regrets?
I am fully aware that associating nudity and self-portrait could cause me some trouble. However, I cannot regret it. Art is a necessity to me, I need creating as much as breathing, and if one of those could hurt me, it wouldn’t be in my hands to sort it out.
Some of your photos are brilliant in their simplicity. How do you compose your shots?
I love that you ask that question because it means that you have perfectly understood my work. Yes, I seek to strip my images from anything else that is accessorial; that’s why there are no clothes, and that’s why the elements are just the right ones to express what I need: an old trunk, a wig, a cat, a bed. But on top of that, I don’t have much time or a studio. If my interests in photography were others, I don’t know how I would do it. My way of working is very spontaneous: as soon as I have a few hours off, I get the room ready (the usual is that I have to move some furniture), I prepare my camera, take the photos and edit them. All that process takes from one to three hours. It never takes more, except for the times that I have photographed outdoors.
Do you think the world is ready for more photographers like you? Have you had to face harsh critiques?
I think the world is ready for everything; history has shown that. I don’t do anything especially transgressor, I just do what I feel I have to do, and I think this truth is transmitted to the spectator who sees my images. The hardest reviews are the ones I do to myself.
Do you think excessively editing a photograph to make it more artistic ruins it? Do you prefer digital photography to film?
It depends on the case. I have chosen simplicity, but I understand that other discourses need the very opposite. In fact, from my point of view, those photographs of commercial landscapes in which the sky is not the sky, unless the clouds are threatening, and the sea is useless, if it doesn’t look in tempest, don’t catch my eye, they don’t tell me anything at all and, of course, I see them as the antithesis of the artistic.
I work with digital photography, but only because it is the one that suits my needs. This April, I will be attending a blueprint workshop. I love analogue photography and the traditional processes. Nevertheless, I believe that being a good photographer doesn’t depend on the technique at all, but only on how you use it, according to the discourse.
Do you enjoy teaching as much as being a photographer?
I enjoy what I do and I think it is because it is all about the same thing. I feel the world has so many terrible things, that I have at times wondered if it is worth it to live in it. At the same time, and far from any kind of survival instinct, there are moments when something makes my skin stand on end, and generally that something has to do with nature, beauty and art in all its forms. When teaching, writing, painting or taking photos, I don’t do anything but sharing with others those treasures I find. That’s why I couldn’t choose.
Would you like to say something about Emaho?
Se trata de una iniciativa valiente, que exige dedicación, curiosidad, formación y, sobre, todo, verdadero amor por la fotografía. No puedo más que admirarla.
(This is a bold initiative that requires dedication, curiosity, training and above all, true love for photography. I can only admire.)
Interviewed by: Manik Katyal and Marukh Budhraja
Photographs by: Mimi Mitsou