Hackney photographer shoots 'mosaic' of East London
- Credit: Mimi Mollica
Mimi Mollica captures playful street-level images of Hackney in what he calls a "mosaic of East London".
In his book East London Up Close, the joyful, abstract visual fragments are a colourful snapshot of the people, fabrics, architecture, and wildlife of these living streets as well as a testament to the Italian photographer's love for his community.
Mollica moved to Hackney in 1999, first to a warehouse off Mare Street then for the next decade to an artist's colony in Hackney Wick.
"Initially I wasn’t taken by East London “fever” but Hackney Wick made me fall in love with the area," he says.
"At that time it was uncharted territory with an eclectic mix of cultures cohabiting a space that felt secluded from the rest of the urban network. There was a Russian Cash n Carry below where I lived, a weekend market in the old greyhound stadium and Irish traveller settlements. We were artists living together and sharing everything from cutlery to good vibes, throwing parties and collaborating on projects. That gave me a sense of community. East London is exciting because it never settles and these constant changes make it always fresh."
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The 45-year-old wanted to capture the colour and diversity of a vibrant area "one that pulled me out of occasional blues and some personal traumas" to trace a profile of his neighbourhood that was "meaningful to me but also a valid statement on the area".
"I find East London very photogenic and full of surprises. When I walk the streets, by day or night, it feels like walking through film studios. Every street corner looks like the perfect stage. The rubbish by the curb becomes perfect props and the people walking the streets are glamorous and eccentric like movie actors. I find the different cultures gracious and energetic. You can feel you are in the Caribbean and a meter away you’re in Kurdistan. Walk a little further and you could be in 1940’s Eastern Europe, of hipster Brooklyn. The multitude of different languages is a breath of fresh air, while you can still savour the native Cockney in all its might. I only collected a portion of this real life theatre."
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Mollica brings his camera with him wherever he goes, his first action on hitting the street is to measure the light and set the camera "so if I see something I can quickly shoot".
"With digital cameras you can shoot many photographs of the same subject to try different angles or just to make sure you got the right picture, but sometimes things happen in a fraction of a second and they’re gone. As far as choosing my subjects that’s a very intimate and instinctive feeling. I usually look for dramatic scenes, vibrant or contrasting colours, interesting characters, beautiful people and meaningful interactions. When I can, I engage with the situation I am photographing, often I stop and chat with people, trying to make them part of the process."
He's not, however, always welcomed with open arms.
"Photographing in London is one tough endeavour," he admits. "There are countless times where people reacted aggressively and refused to be photographed. This could be discouraging, but then you strike lucky, shoot a great picture and find again the confidence to claim your space on the streets. You can see this as a constant negotiation where you try to establish your radius of action while being conscious that you need to consider the mental and physical space occupied by others. The key is to be confident but respectful, daring but not aggressive."
He hopes readers get a glimpse of Hackney through fresh eyes.
"I wanted to create the feeling of experiencing the area as if through a continuous blinking of the eyes. Each time the eyes open they receive a different quanta of visual information that together creates a mosaic of East London."
East London Up Close By Mimi Mollica is published by Hoxton Mini Press.