10 Minutes with Youssef Nabil



From Cairo to New York, meet the Egyptian artist bringing avant-garde

photography to life.


By Lydia Schoonderbeek


He is a man forever on a journey; he adventures through life, navigating its twists and turns with strength and grace. It is not every day that we get to chat with a world-renowned Egyptian photographer based between New York and Paris. Youssef Nabil talks to Cairo West Magazine about art, life and Egypt.



CWM: How did it all start?

YN: Since I was a child I always had a visual memory, I would sit at home with my family, and didn’t really say much. I was an introvert; I enjoyed watching people and their behavior. I was very observant of life, everything was visual for me. Especially watching old Egyptian movies, I was fascinated with the Egyptian cinema. From then on I could always tell a story from an image.


The idea of holding on to time and being able to keep capture moments of other peoples’ lives, inspired me to make this my profession, and made me want to take pictures. I used to photograph friends at school, and slowly things took off from there. In 1992, I started to become a professional, I only shot in black and white because of my relationship with classic Egyptian cinema. My only source of inspiration is Egyptian cinema, where I got to see different kinds of light, and different photography. Therefore, my work was very cinematic. I started to hand-color my black and white photography using paint, and until today I still hand paint my photography.



Tell us about your time abroad, and why you left Egypt?

The Culture Minister of France saw my work at an exhibition held at the French Institute in Alexandria, and later invited me to Paris, which I moved to some time later. I was flying back and forth between Paris and New York, where I eventually moved. Conservative ideas about the body make it still a taboo in our culture today, whereas a lot of my work deals with the human body. I was always careful, and I wanted to broaden my art, and so moving to the France, then the USA seemed to be the right thing.


From the photographs you have taken, do you have a favorite?


Not really, each one of them represents a part of me. Each portrait represents something of that moment in time, they represent a chapter of my life.


What is your favorite app?

Shazam – I love this app. There was once a time when I used to ask everyone, “Do know what this song is called?”, and I used to go buy that CD.


Things you can’t live without?

Freedom, my camera, and my laptop.


Favorite building?

The Pyramids.

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