Monday May 20th, 2024
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A Conversation With Egyptian Fashion Photographer Youssef Ali

More than a fashion photographer, Youssef Ali is also a conceptual artist who immerses himself into art direction, styling and set design, becoming a multi-faceted and experimental artist.

Mai El Mokadem

A Conversation With Egyptian Fashion Photographer Youssef Ali

Based in Cairo, Youssef Ali is a fashion photographer and conceptual artist whose journey began with a simple observation – the way his eyes devoured the world around him. This fascination with detail soon found an outlet in photography, and a love for fashion was born. It wasn't long before he realised fashion's power to elevate a photograph, just as it elevates personal style.

“Being a conceptual artist is an idea,” Ali tells SceneStyled. “If it’s not true and authentic, no one will relate to it or believe in it.”

Ali emphasises that he’s more than just a photographer; he's a conceptual artist who navigates the crossroads of commercial needs and personal expression. As for his creative process, it begins with a feeling, an emotion that lingers and demands to be heard. He translates these emotions into layers within the frame, all within artistic synergy. His ongoing personal series, ‘Thriving Through Chaos’, exemplifies this approach. The project aims to shed light on embracing identities amidst a city that tries to erase them. This theme manifests in his choice of locations - chaotic corners of Cairo juxtaposed with models whose personalities stand in stark contrast to the urban frenzy.

How did you get your start in fashion photography? Did you always have a passion for fashion and photography?

At the beginning, I used to collaborate with different models to experiment with styles, angles, combinations of clothes at my grandma’s house using her old wardrobe, until one of my pictures got featured on Vogue Italy - and that was one of the things that kept me going and doing more fashion photography. Growing up, my father used to take me and my siblings to a lot or to natural reserves inside and outside of the city. And in those quiet and detailed oriented spaces, my eyes would be easily and unthinkingly drawn to the different ways and angles that would allow them to see one thing. Nature doesn’t only provide me with new perspectives, it also calms me down enough in the face of all the chaos I experience in my daily life in the city of Cairo. This contrast expands my vision. It allows me to consider things like a fleeting emotion on a stranger's face or the quirky charm of a forgotten corner.

Conceptual art often invites interpretation and encourages viewers to engage with the artwork on a deeper level. How do you approach the task of conveying your intended message or concept effectively to your audience?

I truly think that the better and deeper I get in understanding certain emotions, the easier it gets to interpret them. Sometimes all I get from clients are a few keywords to work with, and having explored their honest translations through my conceptual projects from before, helps immensely. And as a consequence of willingly going into those depths, once you start caring about the small details and layers, you explore more of them and by nature, you get more curious. You start appreciating other forms of art like music, painting, writing, etcetera, and consume them in a way as to understand more of what goes on. For example, photography for me didn’t stop at taking a photograph, it went further than that; delving into the worlds of art direction, styling, set design, and so on.

In the realm of fashion photography, trends and aesthetics can evolve rapidly, and it’s a saturated industry. How do you stay ahead of the curve and maintain a unique artistic voice and signature style in an ever-changing industry?

Besides being true to and honest with oneself, I believe that experimenting constantly - especially in the field of photography - is a great way to not only to get to know your style, but also to train and learn how to use your eye to get the perfect frame. It’s always an enriching experience, whether big or small, perfect or not, you get something out of it that you might use in future shoots. You just have to stay curious and go after this curiosity whenever you get the chance. As a fashion photographer, I feel the need to follow the new trends only to be aware of them and their technicalities, for when my clients ask me to do something similar. However, I still like to give the space for my eyes and my style to seep through subtly. And it often shows in the angles but also, in the way I find solutions during the shoots.

What role do you believe art and fashion play in society? How do you hope your work contributes to broader cultural conversations or challenges existing norms?

I believe that artists speak for a lot of people. They’re the ones who are given the means of expression and the mediums to deliver feelings and thoughts. The languages they create are ones we usually don’t know we need. Art. or any artistic expression in general in society, is to speak about documentation of identities, historical events, thoughts, ideas, and feelings. We can’t live without them and the following generations can’t live without examples of them. It’s an integral part that cannot be sidelined.

As a young artist pushing boundaries and recent graduate demonstrating the vast potential of my field, my one true hope is for those who see my work to get inspired by it and for it to motivate them to create their own bodies of work.

Collaboration is often an integral part of the creative process. Could you share some memorable collaborations you've had and how they have influenced your work?

Collaborations with different artists from different backgrounds help in expanding my own perspective as an artist; not just in photography but also in life. One of the most memorable collaborations for me was with a designer/model based in Berlin called Zora Arose. When I talked with her about the ongoing series ‘Thriving through Chaos’, she instantly connected with it. Luckily, she was one of the people who could channel the emotions of being in an overwhelming city like Cairo for the first time through styling and the character she embodied for the shoot. It was particularly exciting for me as a person coming from a completely different place on Earth was sharing the same thoughts I was having towards my hometown.

Many artists face moments of self-doubt or creative blocks. How do you overcome these challenges and reignite your inspiration when faced with artistic obstacles?

I try to think of creative blocks as phases that every artist has to go through from time to time. And it’s extremely essential to know how to treat oneself during those periods, to get out of it with a fresh, renewed and solid perspective.

Personally, whenever I experience any form of creative block, I feel the urge to change something. Be it my routine, daily activities, habits, and places. I feel that feeding my eyes with new things helps in getting me out of the systemic loop most people are stuck in inside of the city.

Travelling is one thing that allows me the quiet time I need with myself in nature; freeing my mind from what it’s used to and making space for newness. And I can’t stress the importance of sitting with your feelings and making a small effort in understanding them.

Funny enough, some of my biggest inspirations came from negative emotions. The more I’m transparent with them, the more I’m aware of them, the more I’m authentic in whatever I produce and the easier it gets to get to the healing as I express them through my art.

Sometimes working in a creative field can be draining. How do you try to avoid burn out and keep your creative juices flowing?

I think that time management and having a good team are crucial to avoid burnouts. It comforts me that, for example, I can always rely on some friends over at Zaytunes, the recording studio I co-own. Working in the fashion photography field has cycles of activity and rest. Sometimes I shoot for four or five days straight and then there would be no scheduled shoots for the rest of the month.

What I try to do is live my life, rest and have fun while I have the chance in order to be as ready as I can be for those busy days when they come. And as time went by, I discovered that being attentive to my health also contributes to my overall performance and my readiness whenever there’s an upcoming shoot. I focus on my intake of water, what I eat, how much I exercise and regulating my mood so that during any shoot. This means I have enough energy to react, make decisions, and find solutions.

Personal passion projects help me to enjoy myself as an artist. It’s kind of a getaway that keeps my creative juices flowing with no external pressure.


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