ANIMA – Latin for breath, soul and spirit – is the outcome of a large-scale and detailed photo project about pilgrimages, that took Mathieu Richer Mamousse all the way around the world within three years. The trip led him from a holy grotto in France and the prehistoric site of Stonehenge, over the Himalayan Mountains all the way to a graveyard on Haiti. He spoke with us about his experiences on the journey, and why the outfits worn by the pilgrims repeatedly played an important role.
What led you to the idea of ANIMA, and what drove you to take pictures about pilgrims all over the world?
I started documenting religious pilgrimages and celebrations back in 2017. At that time I found myself eager to start a bigger documentary project. I was primarily working in commercial and fashion photography and I had the urge to photograph stories that I found interesting. I first travelled to Seville to document Holy Week (Semana Santa). I was instantly attracted by the garments, the clothes, the devotion of some of the people….. There was a mysterious yet universal sense to everything that was going on there. It gave me the need to explore the theme further, and I found myself travelling across eight different countries over the following three years to document more. I primarily focus on the folklore and the clothing, which to me was quite a new and fresh way to approach this theme that had been documented broadly in the past.
Your imagery is pretty colourful and poetic. What was your main focus and what do you want to evoke in the viewer?
I worked for a long time as a light assistant in fashion and advertising photography. My eyes and taste were trained during those years and it definitely influenced the way I photograph people now. I’m always trying to keep in mind that the photo has to be in some sense pretty, with good lighting and good composition; but essentially, it also needs to represent the subjects I’m photographing in the most accurate way.
How did you choose the locations?
The locations came naturally, when I was searching for new places of interest. I did a lot of research on the theme and found myself travelling to relevant locations and celebrations. I always kept in mind that they had to be visually strong to keep the unity between them.
What impression did the people leave on you?
A strong sense of identification and unity. I was very moved by the faith of some of them as well. I’m also intrigued by the concept of representation, and that’s what I pursued most. The pilgrimages and celebrations give these people the time and the opportunity to all be actors of one giant, single play.
Your images are taken with a Leica M6. Why do you prefer to shoot analogue?
I primarily shoot film. This is the way I see my personal work. If you go this way you have to go all the way – shoot film and then print by hand (although at the time I shot the project I was not yet trained to print by hand, so I only scanned the negatives). Film (and especially printing by hand) has a feeling, a texture and a mood that digital photography could never replicate. It also teaches you to think more, be more cautious and organized, and to think twice before taking the shot. I like the slowness there is to it as well.
What were the biggest challenges from a photographic point of view?
To represent the people as they really are, or what they want to be in the moment I take their photograph.
In general, do you have any specific photographic approach when shooting projects?
I try to stay as close as possible to my personal work. I have a way of approaching, talking to and photographing people, and I try to stick to it the same way you stick to a favourite recipe. When you’re trying to photograph a long-term project or a bigger project that could lead to a book, for example, it’s important to keep the same essence and workflow to have some consistency – at least that’s how I see it.
Do you have any favourite subjects?
People above all; and then the way they express themselves through garments and clothing.
What does ANIMA mean for you, personally?
It obviously means a lot. The trip to Seville was my first trip ever to take documentary photos on a proper subject. And, one trip after another, it eventually led to a book. This represents years of work: shooting, editing, meeting people, advertising it, making the book, promoting it….. It’s like having your first child I guess. I’m excited for it to be out there, but I’m also excited to move on to the next thing.
So, what comes next then?
For now I’ve been really busy with assignments for brands and magazines, and this is what I’ve been working on primarily the past couple of years or so, as well as the making of this book. I’m still pursuing my own stories, which I produce and shoot myself, to later sell as editorial content. I’m slowly building up ideas for a bigger, longer project, but I’m taking the time for it…
Born in 1989, Mathieu Richer Mamousse has been making documentary series for several years, covering themes such as religiosity, tradition and folklore. Through his travels he explores the meaning of community practices, and deals with marginalised or endangered social groups. He lives in Paris and works on commercial assignments and for the French and international print media. Anima is his first book publication. Find out more about his photography on his website and Instagram page.