Photo: © Mei Seva

Docu Interview: Mei Seva

Instagram: @mei_seva

1. What’s your favorite drink?

Probably an iced latte on a hot summer day. In winter, a nice cup of tea does wonders for the soul. Mint juleps also hit the spot, but that’s a rare treat.

2. Who are you?

I’m a multimedia artist and photographer — I was born in Elbasan, Albania and grew up in NYC. I often photograph my travels, landscapes, and urban environments. For me, the best photographs are unplanned and spontaneous. I like to be an invisible chameleon when taking photographs, capturing moments that would have otherwise disappeared into the void of space and time.
My work straddles the space between documentary, street, and landscape photography, transcending rigid labels, and instead aims to capture the world around us in all of its imperfect candidness. I want to use my photography and art as a tool of social change by touching on themes such as inequality, immigration, sexism, and more.

3. Let's travel back in time... How did you get started with photography?

I still vividly remember getting my first Polaroid camera at the age of 10, and being incredibly excited to use it. There are photos of me even younger with a video camera in my hand — i guess it’s something I was always drawn to. As an introvert who is also pretty analytical, I’m often one step removed from the conversation, sometimes viewing moments more as a bystander than participant, and that reflects well my chameleon style of photography.
I’m not one to plan extensive photo shoots and I don’t have much interest in commercial photography. My favorite way to take photographs is to travel somewhere new, and walk around, documenting cityscapes, landscapes, and the people I meet.

4. Tell about your project/photo essay?

My memories of leaving Albania when I was six years old are sparse. What I most strongly remember comes from a photo that was taken the day I left, and the accompanying story. In the photo, my grandpa is wearing sunglasses that hide his red eyes, red from too much crying. The other memory of that day is faint. All I dimly remember is looking up, right outside the airport in New York City, and being overwhelmed by the size and speed of everything, feelings of being lost, somewhere unfamiliar.

Cognitive Dissonance is a photography project about my experiences growing up in New York City and Albania. It explores themes of identity, belonging, migration, and inequality. It seeks to illustrate how much luck plays a role in where we end up, the opportunities we are given, as well as the vast inequalities that exist in this world. The images are accompanied by text that are anecdotes, analyses, and personal stories that complete the story for the viewer. You can view all of the images with the accompanying text on my website:

“Once you’ve been a stranger, a foreigner, you always carry this somewhere inside. It never goes away. One is irreversibly a stranger. One never returns to the nest, to one’s Going home: migration as enactment and symbol 477 home, one’s homeland. Nor to the illusion of completeness. That is lost forever. What remains is a rupture between the individual and his links, and there is always, forever, something lacking.” (Caro Hollander 1998, p. 201)

5. What is your advice for new young photographers?

Take a lot of photographs, and dabble in other art mediums. My professors in college always told me I had to narrow down my focus more, as I was simply interested in too much and took all sorts of classes, but I have found that working with other art mediums like collage, sculpture, and even graphic design has improved my abilities as an artist. And don’t give up on your dreams (cheesy but true)!

6. What is or has been your biggest struggle as a photographer?

Keeping a consistent practice. After getting a full-time job, I struggled to stay dedicated to photography, especially as COVID lockdown impacted my practice and made it hard for me to travel and be inspired by my surroundings. I’m happy to say I’ve gotten back into a more consistent practice, but it can be hard while juggling a full-time job.

7. What is your opinion: who are currently the "thought leaders" in documentary photography/visual storytelling?

I recently came across Diana Markosian’s work and was really inspired. Her images are very framed and thought out, which isn’t my usual style of photography, but they are really beautiful and tell a story. She has an exhibit up at SFMOMA on her own experiences moving to the U.S. from Russia, which is similar to my Cognitive Dissonance project.

8. How about the "next big names"? Name 1-3 up-and-coming photographers who are not very famous yet, but whose work everyone should check out.

9. Do you sell prints? If yes, where can people buy them?

Yes! They will be up on my website in the next few days, along with some of my collages:

10. Why did you submit your project/photo essay to Docu Magazine?

I support the mission of Docu Magazine and think visual stories need to be told, because they can connect with viewers in a way that articles, books, and lectures can’t. There are so many amazing photographers out there and Docu Magazine is doing a great job of leveling the playing field and highlighting work by emerging and established artists. Keep it up!