Mahmoud Mfinanga: Meticulous Minimalism

Born in Detroit, Michigan, Mahmoud Mfinanga is a 17-year-old graduate of Cass Technical High School. He has embraced photography as his primary means of creative expression. His firm belief in honoring and expressing his creativity has resulted in a series of insightful and compelling automotive images that have been featured by companies such as Jaguar and HTC. He’s now working on an ongoing conceptual automotive photography series entitled AUTOVISION, from which the images presented here were taken. Young and determined, Mahmoud Mfinanga has plans to move to New York City this fall.

Q: What equipment do you generally use to create your images?

A: For this edition of AUTOVISION, I used the Leica T and Summicron-T 23 mm f/2. I knew that this project, one that focuses on essential characteristics, should be developed with a camera that embodies the same philosophy. Before, I simply used a Sony NEX-F3 with old manual focus lenses.

Q: How do you think the Leica T embodies that concept of essential characteristics, and what features does it possess that made it especially suitable for that assignment? Also why did you choose the 23 mm f/2 Summicron-T lens and what was your impression of its performance?

A: The Leica T’s simplicity and elegance parlay with the characteristics found in some of the cars included in this series. The design is clean, unique, and desirable. For me, I’ve always been fond of the portability of mirrorless cameras rather than using heavy DSLRs and big lenses. I’m not comfortable lugging around a big camera, various lenses, and a lighting setup around expensive cars. The Leica T produced the desired images in a relatively comfortable package. The 23 mm f/2 Summicron-T is sharp and fast enough to grab little details I’m drawn to in the cars without having to worry about lighting, or consider the fact that every image was lit by showroom or ambient light. The lens is what you expect from Leica — fast, crisp, and meticulously crafted.

Q: How would you describe your photography?

A: Meticulous and minimal, I hope. For me, it’s crucial to support these factors, because it parallels my artistic expression with my lifestyle. I paint my work with these elements because it’s who I am. However, I’ve felt myself stagnating, which fueled me to move forward and expand the associated elements of my work. I’m not forcing myself to do this, but as a creative person it’s important to always move the needle and challenge your current work because the same flavor gets stale with repetition.

Although I interpret my work as meticulous and minimal, I really want to swim in uncharted territory and frame things in a contemporary perspective. The last thing I, or any creative needs is to push yourself into a corner because you’re already going to have people do that for you.

Q: What was your strategy of continuing your meticulous and minimal approach but also moving forward, and how do you think this dynamic has been expressed in these images and in your approach to this entire project?

A: Mainly by changing my scenery. And in the context of this project, it was shooting new cars. Those familiar with the very first set of the project know how much I included Aston Martins and Jaguars. As I kept shooting, my access to a larger set of cars grew. For this edition of AUTOVISION, I shielded myself from researching about the cars or even looking at images of them on the web. I wanted every moment to be dicey and unknown. There were a lot of times where I thought to myself, “Whoa, I didn’t know this car has this!” or “Oh, ok this does this?”

I’m naturally attracted to the little details — every car has its set of unique attributes — so it became relatively easy to focus on different things with each car. As I currently work on the next edition of AUTOVISION, I want to make sure that whatever is in the image contributes towards the scene. You shouldn’t find something in the frame that doesn’t contribute to the scene.

Q: What approach do you take with your photography or what does photography mean to you?

A: My definition of photography is paralleled with my belief of art being a form of communication. Evoking an emotion from the viewer is something I value and respect. You can’t take a calculated approach towards something emotional and I do my best not to support that notion. My inclination to capture a given scene is engendered by my curiosity. I hope people realize that they can do the same with their chosen medium and approach.

Q: Is this interactive connection with the viewer something that just happens or is there some conscious methodology behind it?

A: Whatever you put out into the world is going to come from you. How or if you do, it is up to you. Like many people, I’ve chosen to voice that perspective. Hell, I’ve chosen to shout loud enough to the point where at least one person can hear me. If they like what they hear, then that’s amazing. If they don’t, that’s amazing too, because I’m getting a reaction out of that. The viewer is reacting to my voice. All I can control is choosing to shout and where. I’m not entitled to any specific result, just the reaction.

Q: This image shows a shiny black luxury car in an urban setting, evidently on the top floor of a parking garage with a tableau of tall buildings and clouds in the sky in the background. The car is elegant but the setting really isn’t, which does give the image a striking and unexpected quality. What were you trying to achieve with this image, and what message or feeling do you think it communicates to viewers?

A: I mainly aimed for a juxtaposed situation. Placing the Lincoln in a nontraditional setting warranted my intention in the viewer primarily focusing on the car, rather than the environment. Rarely in the AUTOVISION series have I had full exterior shots of cars, so when I shot this, I didn’t want it to be traditional in any commercial sense.

Q: This is a beautifully composed image of a tachometer with art-deco-inspired numerals, other more conventional elements of the adjacent control console and various indicators, and the background out of focus due to limited depth of field. Why did you decide to present this striking image in black-and-white, and how did you create the image files?

A: Black-and-white images allow you to focus on tones and textures rather than relying on colors. The colors that the tachometer has are appealing, but the texture around the screen details influenced my decision to present this image in black-and-white. This edition of AUTOVISION was edited with VSCO’s film-emulation Lightroom presets. I started shooting with film cameras, so I favor recreating these tones in every image I take.

Q: This image shows a graphically composed view of a steering wheel and dashboard of a sports car shot from an unusual angle and presented in black-and-white. Again, why did you choose the black-and-white medium for this image, what is its emotional thrust, and what were you thinking when you pressed the shutter release?

A: There’s a certain aura Aston Martins hold that makes you think elegance and James Bond! It’s hard to capture any image of an Aston Martin without it being black-and-white because of this rich emotional quality. I vividly remember saying, “I can roll with this,” when I pressed the shutter release.

Q: This is a masterfully composed image, evidently of part of a Ferrari engine and it suggests innovation, craftsmanship, quality, and exclusivity. Am I off base or are these some of the things you were trying to convey here?

A: You hit the nail on the head here. I noticed how the car’s brake lights illuminated the engine and knew I had to capture this scene.

Q: How do you see your photography evolving over, say, the next three years, and are you working on any future projects, automotive or personal that you can tell us about here?

A: I’m always doing the best to move the needle forward. I don’t know how it will happen, but I trust that it will happen. I’m always asking, “What’s next?” and letting time and determination yield the answer.

Currently, I’m working on the next edition of AUTOVISION. I can’t share much about it, but if you enjoyed the black-and-white image of the Aston Martin steering wheel, I trust that you’ll love this upcoming edition. In the context of my AUTOVISION project, I know that I want it on a bigger scale with a bit more hands in it. The next four editions of AUTOVISION won’t be as static as the previous two.

Regarding other projects, everything isn’t set in stone and is still in the planning stage, but I’ve never been this excited before about what’s coming soon.

Q: What is the commercial purpose, if any, of these images?  Will they be used be used by the respective automotive companies to promote their products?

A: The commercial purpose? For now, that’s hard to define, but I trust that they’ll be used in the right way when the time comes.

Thank you for your time, Mahmoud!

– Leica Internet Team

View more of Mahmoud’s work on his website, Twitter and Instagram. View more images from Mahmoud and other photographers taken with the Leica T here.

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