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PORTFOLIO Images - Courtesy of the artist and The Third Line. Writer - Saira Ansari.

Youssef Nabil: A Portfolio Review From vintage photo processes to video evoking loss, displacement, memory and rebirth “In my work, the landscapes, people and emotions

by Egyptian-Armenian studio photographer Van

In the early 2000s, Youssef found recognition for

are a direct representation of how I perceive my

Leo who, during the 40s and 50s, took portraits

his portrait and self-portrait series, with his images

journey in this life and my preoccupation with death.

of famous homegrown personalities, ranging from

highlighting the extraordinary character of his models,

Over the years, my work has looked to illustrate

politicians to singers. He met the photographer in

distinguished artists, actors, singers and friends.

my anxieties and my hopes. I often wonder about

1992 and they remained close friends till Leo’s death

International figures from the world of art, cinema

what it means to belong – to a place, a country, its

in 2002, the relationship leaving a profound effect

and music became his subjects, with some prominent

people and its culture. What happens when one

on the artist. In the meanwhile, Youssef went on to

names including Tracey Emin, Natacha Atlas, Paulo

finds oneselves alienated and unable to relate with

work as an apprentice photographer with renowned

Coelho, Nan Goldin, Bob Wilson and John Waters.

the changes that begin to occur? And what happens

luminaries David LaChapelle and Mario Testino, which

Cairo’s fingerprints are all over his works, including

when one moves away?

led to a unique training experience and exposure,

famous Egyptian personalities such as the belly dancer

encouraging his own creative growth. In 2003, Youssef

Fifi Abdou, artist Ghada Amer, controversial crooner

I left Egypt in 2003 and since then I keep moving,

left Egypt and since then has worked primarily from

Shaaban Abdel Rehim and Nobel prize winning author

traveling, and living in new places, all the time making

his studios in New York, Miami and Paris.

Naguib Mahfouz. The portraits saw all these figures

work and getting inspired. I considered my first move

and more transported to Youssef’s world, each image

like a kind of rebirth as I drifted between New York and

Youssef’s work over the years has come to be

offering a private glimpse into their persona, with

Paris, and my return to visit Egypt afterwards left me

identified with his characteristic technique of hand

compositions suggestive of stills from an imaginary

even more isolated. My first video You Never Left, and

painted silver gelatin photographs, which evoke

film. At the same time, Youssef was also producing

many of my photographs, sketch a parallel between

the feel of the photo-novels and movie posters that

highly sensitive, and almost voyeuristic self-portraits.

exile and death as a response to this. And a lot of

accompanied Egyptian cinema more than half a

Taken over many years, these now number in the

my work, including the new video I Saved My Belly

century ago. It is a meticulous and time-consuming

dozens, and have been taken in different locations

Dancer, is often meant as autobiographical, through

process that may take days, and the process combines

across the world. These self-portraits are different

which I expose deeply intimate and personal feelings

vintage photographic practices with contemporary

from his other portraits, always presenting him in

which act as both reality and metaphor. My work

compositions and subtexts.

profile or from the back, or looking away from the

provides a look into the constant death and re-birth

lens, gazing into a faraway place. This places the

of my identity, or those of the ‘characters’ I portray.”–

"When I was a kid, and while watching old Egyptian

viewer in a voyeur’s position, peeking into Youssef’s

Youssef Nabil

movies, I used to ask my mother about all the actors,

personal life.

where they all are," he recalls. "And mostly the

112 tribe

Youssef Nabil was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1972

answer was that they were all dead. It was a strange

In 2010, the artist known for his work combining

where he grew up in a city caught in the romance

idea to me to watch and love all these beautiful dead

photography and painting presented his first video

of the golden age cinema of Hollywood on the

people. I think it did something to my subconscious.

You Never Left, an 8-minute piece with the actors

Nile: a black and white film world in which he recalls

Later on in my work when photographing people,

Fanny Ardant and Tahar Rahim set in an allegorical

the glamour and the elegance of an alternative

I always think of how to make the moment eternal;

other place that is a metaphor of a lost Egypt. The

realm. At a young age, Youssef discovered works

before they die, or I die."

video represented a major turning point in Youssef’s

Tribe 01  

Photography and New Media from the Arab world

Tribe 01  

Photography and New Media from the Arab world