We live in a world awash with photographic images. Saturated, even. Leaving the Kim Kardashians and Justin Biebers of our time aside, today’s focus shifts to photography that is truly worth its pixels. It is the street photography of Yassine Alaoui Ismaili – better known under his artist name Yoriyas.
The number of professional Moroccan photographers has been steady for a couple of years. Names of contemporary artists such as Yto Barrada, Hassan Hajjaj, Hicham Benohoud, and Leila Sadel might not sound unfamiliar. The work of Yassine Alaoui Ismaili, a Casablanca-based street photographer who is a bit newer to the scene, has been drawing more and more attention for the past few months.
Two elderly women – sisters, one might think – enjoy a portion of bright pink candy floss. Their flower patterned blouses, the Barbie pink towels on their heads, and the light rose of their sweet treat contrasts with the azure background of the coffee place behind their backs. Taking a closer look even shows roses on the plastic bag one of the women is holding, and the only female visible in the blue café is wearing a navy hijab.
This is what Yoriyas’s work is about. His photos are characterised by either matching or contrasting colour schemes, symmetrical build-ups, and representations of moments that seem too good to be true. His work is just really, really good. It stands out. It might therefore sound surprising that the artist has been doing street photography for merely two years, and photography in general for not more than three years.
“If you want to do street photography, you should know more than photography only. You have to be familiar with a particular kind of space and elements, movements, and contrasts. I like shooting daily city life. In Casablanca for instance, I always want to take pictures that represent the city,” the artist replies when asked to describe his work. By mentioning the continuous visibility of the contrast between rich and poor in Morocco’s largest city, Yoriyas explains that he tries to capture exactly those elements of the city that he wants to figure out. Securing these instants on film is a process of waiting, waiting, waiting until the extraordinary happens in one moment that begs to be captured.
Keep your friends close
“I started shooting when I was travelling as a break dancer. In 2007 I began to use my camera to capture and remember the places I had visited, like any tourist would do,” Yassine remembers. “I didn’t take it that seriously but it made me practice photography a bit at that time.” As a dancer/choreographer, he travelled to about twenty countries. It was not until 2012, however, that he showed his pictures to photographer friend Guy Thimel. “He said he liked what I was doing, mentioning the compositions of my photos. This made me more conscious about what I was doing, while I was working purely intuitively before.” Inspired by his friend’s positive feedback, Yassine decided to take photography more seriously on his trips abroad.
Once in France, Yassine learned about the history and culture of street photography from a French street photographer. “Ever since he has given me an amount of knowledge about this type of photography, I want to know more about it because I truly feel this is what I want to do,” Yoriyas says. He had the opportunity to meet Siegfried Hansen from the iN-PUBLIC Collective in Germany in 2015, who believed in Yoriyas’s work and share a lot of knowledge and secrets about the world of street photography with him. This became another incentive to take his photography to the next level. “I also read a lot, watch a lot of movies, and try to meet many interesting people,” the 30-something artist describes how he learns about the career path he has chosen, thus making up for not having an official photography education.
B-boy gone photographer
Although he recently has been focusing on photography more than dance, leaving his background as a dancer behind is the last thing on Yassine Alaoui’s mind. “Being a street dancer myself, I surely think there is a link between street dance and street photography,” he says. “It has been more than fifteen years now since I started dancing. I learned a lot about body language through street dance and choreography. It’s about movements, and space. This helps me to practise photography because I also use these elements in my work. There is definitely a connection. I mostly dance on the streets so I know them very well. The streets is where I feel confident because I had to use them for a long time, so it wasn’t hard for me to chose them again.” Going from street dance to street photography was just a smell step for the multi-talented Casablancan. Both art practices establish a type of contact with surroundings and those surrounding, within his natural habitat that public space is.
Trips abroad have only contributed to the artist’s work in a positive way. “Travelling outside of Morocco has made me see things in my own country I hadn’t seen before. I remember my first trip in 2007, to Europe. I went to Salzburg, Austria – a very calm, well-organised, and clean city. I spent one week with my team there and when I came back to Casablanca, I saw the city in a different way,” Yoriyas recalls. “I came back at night. When I woke up in the morning and took a walk down the street, I felt different. A lot of things were happening at the same time, it was less organised… If I hadn’t travelled outside of the country, I would have never seen these things before. Each travel experience helps me to see things differently.”
A friend of Said
Yoriyas, who can be seen working with a Fujifilm X100S or Fujifilm XT-1, remembers one particular moment in his relatively short career very well. “It was during Eid al-Fitr. I went to pray with my mother and my aunt. As usual, I took my camera with me. The place was full of people. I was sitting in the street waiting for the prayer to start. At one point, I looked behind me and I was impressed by the amount of people there. I felt like taking a picture of the scene but it wouldn’t have been interesting from where I sat. I looked to the left, looked to the right, until I saw a building on the left. Asking myself how I could get in, I left my prayer carpet on the street and took my camera to go up towards the building. The door was open, so I went upstairs. But one woman had followed me.”
“When I started to shoot she was screaming that I’m a thief, that I was going to steal something. So I told her: ‘No no, I’m a friend of Said’ – I just improvised. So she replied: ‘Oh, Said, the neighbor’ and I said: ‘Yeah yeah, a friend of him’ and I went my way. What I intended to do was to take some pictures and go back to the prayer, but when I wanted to go down to pray, the door was blocked by the women who were standing in front of it to pray. I couldn’t leave so I decided to pray upstairs. As soon as the adhan resounded, I saw the men standing up fast to pray, but the women took it easy. Because they stood up, I could see the carpets’ colours and the clothes the men and women were wearing, with so many colours. I was really impressed and took some pictures. After having prayed myself, I took a look at the photos at home. The result was amazing.”
What does Yassine consider to be the nicest aspect of practising street photography? “Although I sometimes wish I could take pictures with my eyes, I would say that you can memorise an amazing scene through photography. Something that would have stayed in my mind only, becomes something I can share with others. Through one photograph, they can possibly see, enjoy, understand, and care more about a scene that they probably wouldn’t have noticed if I wouldn’t have captured it. I want to capture exactly those moments that are not evident to notice.”
The young photographer is working on a short documentary that connects Morocco and Germany through old taxis, and the Mercedes 240 in particular. These cars were created in the 70s in Germany but are used in Morocco up until this day. Another of his future projects is a book. “Lots of books about Morocco are made by non-Moroccan photographers,” he says. “I want to make a book that is made by a Moroccan photographer; from his view and not from the view of the West – it will be made from the point of view of a Moroccan who lives in Morocco and visits the country, not from an outsider’s view.”
Yoriyas is currently preparing for an exhibition at Casablanca’s, which will take place in 2016. If you would like to support his work, you can help to nominate him as Moroccan Photographer of the Year 2016 by voting through this link: http://marocwebawards.com/mwa9/casablanca-street-prayers.