Mira Cecile Merks: A Family Story with the X Vario

For Mira Cecile Merks, photography started out as something of a sideline. She has been studying ethnology in Hamburg, Germany and in Guadalajara, Mexico since 2009 and is close to completing her degree. Photography, however, is her true passion, and in the future she intends to incorporate it more into her profession. Last March on the Leica Camera Blog, Mira published portraits she took of Central American migrants traveling through Guadalajara, riding on the roofs of freight trains hoping to make their fortune in the U.S.A.

Her latest story is more personal. For some time now, she has been documenting the daily life of her aunt, a trained nurse and anaesthetist who has been caring for her parents (Mira’s grandparents). Since suffering from a fall, her grandmother has been unable to get out of bed. Mira’s aunt gets up at 4 a.m. every morning and does not return home until late at night — seven days a week, with no holidays.

Q: Your project covers a truly private story. What moved you to make it public?

A: To start, it’s a subject that’s very present within the family. I wanted to express my appreciation for my aunt’s selfless commitment, and to document the work she does. If you look at it within a broader context, it’s exceptional, because nowadays in Germany, for example, it’s normal for the elderly and the sick to be cared for by outsiders. Care from within the family is increasingly rare. I don’t mean that as a criticism, just an observation. Each family has to decide what is possible for them. In my own family we have managed, which is nice.

Q: Had you considered carrying out this project with strangers, or was it only because it was your family?

A: I could imagine photographing strangers, but it would have taken longer to gain their trust. Because it’s my own family, the subject is, of course, close to me. It’s possible that if this hadn’t been the case, I might not have considered it so important, or maybe I wouldn’t have been aware of its potential. I also found it lovely to bring the personal and the intimate aspects into it, as I believe it gives the pictures an added dimension.

Q: Was it difficult to be part of the story, as well as being the observer?

A: I tried to hold back as much as possible, but you can’t simply disengage, either as a freelance photographer or as a family member. After all, you’re not invisible. I document and acknowledge my aunt’s work but, in addition, the pictures reflect my perception of the situation and of the relationship between my aunt and her parents.

Q: Did you have a photographic concept beforehand?

A: I was open for whatever came along. At the same time, I had many images in my mind, focusing on aspects that were important to me. It all became more intense, however, as I had never experienced what my aunt goes through every day, having mostly just visited my grandparents at the weekends. Naturally, this gave me another perspective.

Q: How long did you need, and how often did you observe rather than photograph?

A: Being an ethnologist, I often just observed, and at times it was nicer to just experience the moment. But I did take the photos I wanted. After six weeks, I decided that I was satisfied with the pictures — they told the story that I wanted to share.

Q: You took your last project with the Leica X2. To what degree did you use the possibilities of the X Vario — like the zoom lens, for example?

A: I always like to get to know a camera first, so that we can become friends. I want to be able to grab it quickly, and in this case that worked well. I used the zoom lens often, particularly when there was little space. You can probably see in the pictures how many things there are in my grandparents’ home, which meant that I couldn’t move around very easily. With the zoom lens, I could always get up close or pull back further, which was great.

Q: Do you think you might have achieved more with a larger set of camera equipment, or did you find the X Vario’s handiness an advantage?

A: It was definitely an advantage — that’s what I appreciate about the camera. It’s really nice that both the X2 and the X Vario are so small and discreet — you don’t scare anyone off. Because it was often very dark, I had to use a wider aperture; but, it wasn’t a problem to increase the sensitivity because noise only occurs at a very high ISO value. That’s the camera’s big advantage.

Thank you for your time, Mira!

- Leica Internet Team

Click here to read Mira’s original interview in German. For more information on Mira visit her website.