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Mimi Chakarova

Awakening consciousness

Hi Mimi. Thanks for taking the time out to be interviewed by F8 Magazine. What drives you to take the photos you take?

For me, photography has always been like music. They’re one and the same. When you look through the viewfinder, at someone’s face, for that split moment you feel a connection, a depth into someone’s being, you are completely disengaged from the rest of the world, even when surrounded by danger and chaos. It’s a higher state of mind. And music, well, art has the power to take you places that you wouldn’t otherwise venture into. Most importantly, it transforms you. So what drives me to take photos is the idea that a single fraction of a second has the ability to reveal a truth deeper than any written word. Photography is immediate and instinctual. I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

The real reason for doing the work is the refusal to be complacent or to consume what others serve you. It’s the hunger to be out there and see reality with your own eyes.

What motivates you to take your style of photos?

This is a complex question. On one hand, what motivates me is fear. I can’t tell you how many times I am about to board a plane and I have this feeling of… “What the hell am I doing? Will I come back in one piece?” But that’s only on the surface. The real reason for doing the work is the refusal to be complacent or to consume what others serve you. It’s the hunger to be out there and see reality with your own eyes. But if you were to go even further into what gets me going, it’s this belief that somehow my images will move people to change their minds about certain issues, that I can raise public consciousness and influence change. And for inspiration, I look at the work of those who came before me.

Your photography portfolio is mostly dedicated to social issues. How do you decide on topics, locations, subjects?

I usually take my time on researching a topic. I would read everything that’s been reported on a place or an issue and look at the images that represent it. If I feel that I can somehow add to it, show a different angle or dive deeper, that’s when I plan my initial reporting trip. For example, I have a lot of colleagues who covered Katrina and this past year, the devastating earthquake in Haiti. I felt no urge to be there because these are incredible photographers with a strong voice and sensibility; the coverage was pretty thorough.

But then there are stories like sex trafficking that lacked the necessary understanding of the issue, in my opinion, because these aredangerous and tricky storiesto expose. So I thought I can contribute to the public discourse with different types of images and reporting, especially as a woman with a camera. What this entails is a deeper commitment. Sometimes you have to spend years on an issue to really understand all the factors involved. This is the ultimate test. How long can you endure to expose something that is physically and mentally draining you? And when do you say, “Enough!”?

What kind of impression do you hope to leave upon others who see your photographs? Especially in the context of social issues…

Well, first and foremost, an appreciation for the craft and artfulness of my work. That’s really my hook. I want to draw you in with beauty. Once you enter the frame, I try to gradually reveal all the other pieces that will educate you on what it is that you’re seeing. Multimedia has the power to do that. If you hear someone’s voice, their sigh or laughter, it fuses the still image with real time. It brings you a step closer to someone else’s story.

I hope that when people see my work they can leave with questions and the initiative to ask more. If you’re not informed, you are living in darkness. Although there is this notion of ignorance as bliss and I understand its appeal. The more you know, the more responsible you become of changing. I was walking by a mural the other day and saw a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” So once you know what happens to others, it is your duty as a human being to take a position. Pretending that what’s right in front of you doesn’t exist just because it disrupts your comfort zone is unacceptable.

What was your most memorable project you have ever experienced as a photographer?

Asking me this question is like asking me to pick a favorite fruit. I would go with mango but I also love figs, watermelon and grapes…. Every project has its own life. And in every place you photograph, you leave a piece of yourself. It’s an exchange. You are not only taking a photo; you are giving your attention and concern. Sometimes you don’t even take photos. You sit and observe and help, if you can. When someone opens their home to you, shares the little bit of food they have and offers you their bed because sleeping on the floor is out of the question, you are a guest, not a journalist. And you treat people with the respect your mother taught you. I am fortunate to say I have a wonderful mother who instilled that in me. And I can return to the places I’ve visited over the years without ever feeling unwelcome. The people we photograph should never be referred to as “subjects.” And the dynamic is way too complicated to ever pretend that we can be objective with the work we do.

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