Mohamed Camara


lives and works in Bamako,
Mali, and Paris, France



The Intimate Space of the Home

Interview with Mohamed Camara in Bamako, 2011

Luck Came to Greet Me

Malian Rooms series
Mohamed Camara, 2001

I Put My Passion Into the Photo

Malian Rooms series
Mohamed Camara, 2001

The Most Beautiful Legs

Malian Rooms series
Mohamed Camara, 2001

Some Mornings, I'm the Cactus of Siberia

Some Mornings series
Mohamed Camara, 2005

In My Youth

Memories series
Mohamed Camara, 2010

Some Mornings, My Cousin Does Things I Don't Understand

Some Mornings series
Mohamed Camara, 2006

Some Mornings, She is the First To Start the Day at the Window

Some Mornings series
Mohamed Camara, 2006

I Hold On To Our Memories

Memories series
Mohamed Camara, 2010


Q Your photographs have often been described as poetic. What, in your view, is a poetic image?
MC I don’t know what a poetic image is! I just know that what I do in my work is what I can’t put into words. That’s what I express in images. Perhaps that’s poetic. One thing I can say for sure is that in my photographs, I show things that mean something to me, and I really like all of my photos.
Q You have said that you take photographs to express things that can’t be said with words, and yet the titles you choose are very expressive.
MC Yes, there’s always an underlying thought behind my titles. One title is Every Morning, My Sister Shows Me Something Strange. The images in the Malian Rooms series always tell a story. One photo, entitled I Would Like to Give Her Flowers, But She is Sleeping, portrays a moment when I wanted to go into a room and talk to a girl I was in love with, but I wasn’t able to. Perhaps that’s what people see as poetic, the things I’m able to express in photos. They’re moments. That’s how I would explain my approach to photography, which some people describe as "poetry". It’s always connected to the idea of something that’s missing. For example, I have a young daughter, and at times I feel that I miss her, even if she’s right there. But I was able to take a photograph of her that helps fill that gap. That’s what creates a kind of "poetic image", because the images express a sense of nostalgia. They’re constructed around this sense of nostalgia.


Q What do you consider to be the role of photography? To change society, for example? Do you think it’s important for a photographer to be politically engaged?
MC Many political subjects interest me, but they’re not the subjects I explore in my work. I’m not a hypocrite. Just because a subject is interesting or appeals to us doesn’t mean we should photograph it. There are many current news topics, for example, that I wouldn’t like to show in my photos. I prefer to photograph the more cheerful side of things, to portray joyful subjects and give people pleasure. To give you an example, someone contacted me to do a project on Malians in Paris. I didn’t accept the job because I don’t see it as my role to photograph people who are in difficulty, even if I obtain all the necessary authorizations, from the individuals concerned, the government authorities, and so on. It’s not up to me to show pictures of people having a hard time in Paris. It should be done in a different way, expressed in ways other than through my camera. The subjects I work on are not "about" anybody; I work only for myself. I don’t dedicate my work to a particular cause, or to others, I just follow what I like.


Q Your photographs have earned critical acclaim in Europe and the rest of the world. How do you see the reception of your work outside Mali? What organizations have helped you to travel to other countries?
MC My work has been well-received by critics in Europe. People always compare my photographs with earlier periods of art history. Some critics have mentioned 17th century Dutch painting, others evoke the work of Bernard Faucon, such as his Rooms of Love. Without art galleries, I wouldn’t have this kind of recognition and visibility. I’m represented by a gallery in Stockholm and I used to have one in Paris. I had one in Bamako, too, but the gallery closed down. I had offers to join a gallery in Dakar, but it didn’t work out. I’ve received scholarships to go to Senegal and South Africa. At one point, I had planned to go to the Congo, but that project fell through.
Q Do you feel a sense of freedom in your work or do you feel pressure from galleries and the art market as a result of your success?
MC I do what I want and people leave me alone. I don’t put any pressure on myself. When something I’m trying to do doesn’t work out the way I want it to, I just stop straight away. Sometimes I feel inspired and shoot lots of photographs, but other times, just like everybody, I can’t seem to get anything to work.
Q Who are the artists who have inspired you? Do you have any role models who have influenced the direction of your work?
MC People who have given me direction?
Q Yes, or a work that has had a particularly strong affect on you.
MC Would it be unkind of me to say that there aren’t any?
Q No.
MC Well, there aren’t any. There are artists whose work I appreciate, who could be from Mali or other parts of Africa, or from Europe or America, but I can’t say I’ve got any particular inspiration from looking at the work of other photographers or a particular photograph. I prefer to stay free from all external influences, for fear of imitating others. I have a lot more freedom if I don’t look at the work of other photographers, and that sense of freedom is what people tend to appreciate in my work.
Q The Bamako Biennale changed its name a few years ago from "Encounters with African Photography" to "African Encounters with Photography". What’s your view on this name change? What do you think of the term "African photography"? Do you see yourself as an "African photographer?" Is that something that’s important to you?
MC Yes, I’d say I definitely see myself as an African photographer. I didn’t have a problem with the original title of the Biennale. The second name aims to be less controversial, more polite.

Interview conducted in Bamako, Point Sud (Torokorobougou), 10.02.2011
by Marleine Chedraoui, Judith Rottenburg, Janine Schöne, Moritz Thinnes

They’re moments. That’s how I would explain my approach to photography, which some people describe as "poetry".

One thing I can say for sure is that in my photographs, I show things that mean something to me, and I really like all of my photos.



Some Mornings, I See My Luck Reaching Out To Me

Some Mornings series, N. 54
Mohamed Camara, 2005


Alou Is Playing Under the Mosquito Net

Malian Rooms series, N. 23
Mohamed Camara, 2002-2003