An Interview With: Emilia Cocking

Who are you and where did you study?

I'm Emilia Cocking, a Photographer/Designer and I studied BA (Hons) Photography at Arts University Bournemouth, graduating in 2014.

What is your artist statement for the body of work “Leaving The Red City”?

Documented along the road between two Moroccan cities, ‘Leaving The Red City’ explores the increasing modernisation of a landscape routed in religious and cultural heritage. At the Western point of a three-hour long motorway lies the harbour town of Essaouira. In recent years, the town has seen a growing influx of wealth through the leisure industry. Welcomed and encouraged by Moroccan political powers, a straight road was installed in order to better connect the historical seaside town to Marrakech, a major economic centre and tourist destination. Through the images in the series, we see the visual effect of a country who’s values and ideals are gradually influenced by Western ideologies; synthetic materials lie scattered amongst natural land, and commercials are carved into roadside buildings. ‘Leaving The Red City’ looks to document the tensions that arise through the want to preserve traditional principles and the hope for a modern day Morocco. 

What are your influences, what inspires you to make work?

I’m heavily influenced by my surroundings and my photographic work is directly informed by a sense of place and the immediate landscape around me. I try to walk everywhere I can because it’s the best way to be inspired by new locations.

Throughout your work there is a strong Mediterranean theme, from Northern Africa to Southern France and Italy. What is it that pulls you to these places and what are the themes you like to explore?

It's interesting that you pick up on that because it's not something I've consciously set out to do. Thinking about it, it's the lighting that draws me to Mediterranean landscapes - sharp shadows and vibrant colours can be difficult to find in England.

Can you tell us about the way in which you work?

Since leaving University I've really freed up in the way I work, I try to let myself be influenced by the immediate and then I’ll form a concept further along in the project. In terms of preferred equipment I carry my Pentax MX 35mm with me most of the time, and when I'm specifically setting out to take photographs I'll also bring my Canon 7d DSLR. Most importantly though, I always photograph on my own.

What can you tell us about “The Red City”? Is the red city a fictional tourist ideal or mythical place, or perhaps a more romantic melancholy of a historic kingdom? How have you tried to represent this visually?

The Red City is a common nickname for Marrakech, so the title 'Leaving The Red City' is both literal (since I was taking a motorway road out of the town) and metaphorical. Whilst visiting Morocco I saw a landscape in this limbo state between tradition and modernisation, so the title is supposed to represent a feeling of intermediacy and uncertainty.

Throughout the series, there is a deliberate lack of information, a sense of ambiguity of an unfamiliar space. Do you feel the lack of semiotic indicators to a specific space in time help the viewer to understand the true nature of the red city?

It's become a deliberate effort of mine to leave out recognisable landmarks and to elevate a sense of anonymity amongst the spaces I photograph. 'Leaving The Red City' is the first series of mine to include a physical human presence in a few frames, but I'll always try and keep information minimal to get that feeling of unfamiliarity across to the viewer.

The images have an absence of any traditional decisive moment, what appeals to you about these banal everyday spaces?

What elevates me towards the everyday is the way that I can take a space which is so familiar and make it entirely unfamiliar just by photographing small glimpses of it. It makes me rethink my environment and I hope that when people view my work they see that interesting things can happen in the most ordinary places.

What do you hope the viewer gains from your representation of Marrakesh?

It’s difficult to guess what the viewer will gain from the series but all I can hope is that through my images they can see the visual and cultural effect of the leisure industry on the landscape of Morocco.

What’s next for you; what have you been working on since leaving university, and how have you found that transition? 

I’ve spent the last couple of years working in a bunch of different creative jobs, learning as much as I can and feeding that experience into my personal projects. For me it’s been so important to keep myself working in creative environments because it can be so easy to become uninspired when you’re no longer surrounded by other artists.


All images copyright of Emilia Cocking