An Interview With: Mara Acoma

Who are you and where did/do you study?

My name is Mara Acoma and I’m from Peterlee in the North East of England.  I’m currently coming to the end of an MA in Photography at the University of Sunderland.

What photographic genre do you consider your work falls into; and what themes do you like to explore?

I’m not very keen on labels, they’re so easy to misunderstand and make me feel pigeonholed.  I suppose the projects I’m most passionate about all have a conceptual element that stems from a desire and search to understand myself better.  They’re a way to work out the ideas and things that puzzle me about life in general.  Sometimes those questions are the big ones (such as what happens when we die) or seemingly smaller ones.  They’re all important to me, and all of my projects stem from questions.

Can you talk us through the rationale behind your body of work ‘e/utopia’?

The ‘e/utopia’ project grew out of multiple sources but the catalyst was a visit to Pripyat in the Chernobyl Zone of Exclusion last year.  I knew I wanted to create a body of work form the visit, but also that I didn’t simply want to record the location or the aftermath of the disaster there.  I didn’t want to try and tell the story of its people, it’s not my story to tell and it didn’t feel right to even try.  So instead I decided to look at capturing something of how the place affected me personally through my visit.  As a result quite a few of the images were created very early in the project and were later added to by images from here in England.  

Once home I started to pick apart my emotional response, in particular the very deep sense of being at home which I had felt.  This led to the realisation that I was subconsciously drawing parallels between Pripyat and my hometown of Peterlee, both of which had been designed as forms of utopia during the 20th century.  As I started to research the concept I realised that by doing so i was following in the footsteps of the likes of Sir Thomas More, William Morris and HG Wells, all of which had worked on the idea in the literary field.  They had published their journey to Utopia (and Eutopia) in the form of novels, but my journey is a visual one made up primarily of photographs.  They are woven together with text into a series which shares part of my own journey in search of a better way of societal living.  

Can you talk us through the way in which you make work; this can include research, workflow, preferred equipment and presentation methods for example?

My projects all start with a question.  Sometimes it’s a very defined question, or it can be a nagging need to understand something i can’t quite articulate as in e/utopia.  From that point I will start both shooting and researching, over time bringing the two together as I start to understand what is going on in my mind more, eventually honing down into the essence of the project.  I always start shooting quickly though, even if those photographs are ultimately of no use.  For me the act of creating the photographs helps in working out what is going on in my mind and to refine my thoughts and ideas.   I often shoot in multiple mediums during the early stages and then decide which one works best conceptually and aesthetically.  For example e/utopia was ultimately shot on medium format film, but at various stages I also used Digital and 35mm whilst working things out.  I’m not exclusively digital or film in the way some photographers are, I’ll use whichever one I think is best suited for each project.  The same goes for the presentation method, I’ll use whatever I feel best serves to project.  For e/utopia it was important for the images to be seen in a specific sequence, mirroring the journey aspect of the concept, and this has been built into the portfolio, video piece and the exhibition design.  In a previous body of work called ‘The Ghost Project’ the order wasn’t as important and as such has never been a major consideration when it’s been exhibited.

What do you hope the viewer gains from seeing your work?

I hope it will help them to ask their own questions.  I think we all share aspects of our journey through life and asking those questions helps us to understand ourselves more.   That’s the reason I do photography and if it helps others it’s a double win.

Have you got any advice for the photography graduates of 2016; especially those interested in perusing further study?

Just follow your passion in life, whatever that may be.  That said, I’d give that advice to anyone in life, not just in relation to photography. 


All images copyright of Mara Acoma



Daniel AinsworthComment