Interview by Jane Chun



james con espiritu final

Jane Chun: Before we get to discuss your photography, I was hoping we could talk about where you are from and why you wanted take a photography course at Harvard. 


Graciela Mochkofsky: I’m originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and I’m here at Harvard as a Nieman Fellow. Each year, the Nieman Foundation chooses journalists from around the world to come to Harvard to study. I was fortunate enough to be chosen, and this is my second semester in a photography class. I loved my photography course in the fall, and I wanted to continue taking photographs. 


JC: Could you explain a little bit more about your experience as a journalist, and why you decided to take a break? How do you think your interest in journalism corresponds with your interest in photography? 


GM: I began my journalism career in 1991. How old were you then? 


JC: One. 


GM: [Laughs] Well, I worked at a top Argentinean newspaper as a political correspondent from ’91 to ’95, then in ’96 I took a break to attend a one year master program for journalism at Columbia University. In 2001, I covered the economic collapse that eventually led to a social and political collapse in Argentina. I covered the transition in politics until 2003, when I decided to leave my post. 


JC: What do you do now? 


GM: During my career as a journalist, I published a non-fiction book about a famous Argentinean publisher. [Timerman] Now, I am a full-time writer. 



maria en el jardin doble copy


JC: Now that we know a little more about you, can we go back and discuss the differences in this final project and the final project you did in the previous semester? 


GM: I took two semesters of photography with Sharon [Sharon Harper] and in my first semester final project, I wanted to photograph married couples—couples who have been married for a long time. I wanted to capture closeness and familiarity—a bond—but, I also wanted to capture how when two people are married for some time, the closeness that makes them a unit creates a tension in their relationship because they want to maintain some individuality. My final project ended up being portraits of very happy couples, and really captures the joy of being so close to somebody. 

Both final projects were portraits of people. In the second semester, I wanted more freedom with my final project. Instead of having such a focused idea, I just wanted to focus on people that I find interesting. 


JC: How did you decide on whom to photograph? 


GM: I wanted to capture people that I found interesting. 


JC: The je ne se quois of what makes them interesting. 


GM: Yes, that intangible factor that makes them compelling. They are not average. They are extraordinary, very interesting people with strong personalities. As a reporter, I have met a lot of people, and I find it harder to find very interesting and extraordinary people. I think this is the best part about my experience at Harvard—there are so many interesting and extraordinary people. I also wanted to photograph some people because it allowed me to spend more time with them. 


victor luces


JC: So when shooting your subjects, what did you find most compelling? Was it the lighting, movement, facial expression, body language…


GM: I found that movements compelled me the most, so much emotions are in that. 


JC: I notice that in your photographs, I see that you capture movement in two ways. In the first two photographs, you use a slow shutter speed to capture changes in movement in your first two subjects. Then you subtly switch to double exposures to capture changes in movement. The last panoramic photo seems to be almost like a mix of the two techniques. As a viewer, it looks like the photo blends the visual effects of a slow shutter speed and double exposure together. 


GM: Yes. In these photographs, movement is conveying emotion. I didn’t want my subjects to be stiff; movement was meant to get something from them. 


JC: Something that could reach out of the page and convey that emotion to the viewer. 


GM: Yes. The movement in these photographs was to help these subjects come to life, and impact the viewer in the same way that they impact me. I use movement to capture what makes them interesting to me. 


JC: Could you go through and explain your relationship with each of these subjects, and what direction you gave them in each of the photographs? 


greenblatt con mano


GM: I photographed two professors, Steven Greenblat and James Wood. I had Steven Greenblat recite Shakespeare while I was photographing him. In the picture, he is reciting Macbeth. For James Wood, I had him read Chekhov. I also photographed my baby brother, who came to visit me, and another Neiman fellow—a Chinese Neiman fellow—names Heidi. For Heidi I just directed her to flip her hair and head back. The last photograph is of Maria, a friend of mine who lives in the area, with her two children in their backyard. That’s her younger daughter on the left and older son on the right. I photographed Maria at her house, my brother and Heidi at my apartment, and the two professors at Finale, the dessert shop. 


JC: Although there was some direction, it seemed like you didn’t really approach this project with a very detailed plan.


GM: Everyone’s creative process is different. Some people are very analytical and plan every detail, but for me, my process is much more hands on. 


JC: More trial and error. 


GM: Yes, very trial and error, intuitive, and hands on. 


JC: What kind of cameras did you use to shoot these photographs? 


GM: For the two four photographs that were seated portraits, I used a Mamiya. For the last photograph with Maria and her children, I used a Pentax, because it allowed me to move around with the kids. I asked them to sit down for some photographs, but they just keep moving around, and the Pentax let me follow them. 


JC: I want to go back for a moment, and explore your reasons for being a writer and journalist, and how these reasons relate to why you love photography. 


GM: The reason why I am a writer and journalist is because it allows me to meet and talk to many interesting people. If I see an interesting person on Mass Ave., and I just go up to them and ask them to tell me their story, they will walk away. But if I explain that I am a journalist or writer, I am able to ask people about their own world. People will open up, and share their stories with me. 




JC: Since both of your final projects are portraits, I see a link between your professional interests and your personal interest in connecting and understanding people. 


GM: Definitely. They are linked. Photography is connected—photographer to subject. My father worked as a photographer in college to help pay his bills, and growing up, there was a darkroom in our house. I spent my childhood helping my father develop photos. He was supportive of photography, but never really encouraged it as a profession. He saw it more like a hobby. Finally, as a Neiman fellow, I am able to really explore photography as a hobby, and I love it. It allows me to capture interesting people and gives me a reason to spend more time with them. 


JC: Photography seems to give you that same human connection as writing and journalism. Your work seems to reflect your genuine interest in people.  


GM: Yes, very much so. 


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