INTERVIEW: AISHA AL-ABDALLAH (PHOTOGRAPHER)

FFO: CONCEPT DRIVEN PHOTOGRAPHY – ATMOSPHERIC DYSTOPIAN REALITIES CAPTURED WITHIN THE EVERY DAY!

 

Who are you and where are you currently based?

I’m Aisha Al-Abdallah, and I’m based in London and Canterbury.

 

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All images are taken by Aisha Al-Abdallah

 

What got you interested in photography and taking images?

A family holiday to Hong Kong when I was 13 got me obsessed with capturing things at a dystopian angle, and I found that whole discipline calming, it really grounded me and made me still and quiet for a moment.

 

What is your current photographic work about?

Essentially, it’s about passion and individuality, youth as a fleeting moment, with elements of darkness or a twisted reality.

 

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All images are taken by Aisha Al-Abdallah

 

How do you tend to photograph moments ‘from a dystopian angle’ that relate to your themes of ‘passion, individuality and elements of darkness’ for example? Do you stage create these realities or are they just naturally occurring?

The dystopian aspect tends to show itself the most in my photos of everyday things. I think it’s kind of projected in some of my darker images too because I like to twist what you think the photo should be about. I try to capture things that look ordinary at first, but you have to look again to really get it. Like the photo of the kids lying on the grass. I love how, at once, it’s just children playing games, but if you’re a bit weird like me, it could have some strong resemblance to what we get up to on nights out. Or the blue mirrored photo. The beauty of working with film is that the type of film and camera you use affects the image, so what could have been a boring photo comes out beautiful, or something comes out darker than you intended it to. In this sense, most of my pictures are not staged. They are when you can see that I’ve deliberating taken it from a weird angle, or I’ve flipped something to mess with what your brain expects to see. Sometimes I play around with captions because I find the power of words over the interpretation of a photo a unique part of photography. It allows me to explain what I was feeling at the time of taking the picture, but in a form that directs the viewer if they may otherwise be a bit confused.

 

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All images are taken by Aisha Al-Abdallah

 

Do you think much about your choice of camera equipment when photographing these scenarios? Is there a format you prefer as it captures the moment with an added aesthetic, or does anything go? 

A lot of my photos are quite impulsive, especially the night-time ones. However, I do have a few cameras and if I know that I’ll be going out, I’ll take my Ricoh, because it captures insane contrast and works well in low-lit conditions. Whereas my Canon point-and-shoot shows colour SO nicely. And then for more professional stuff (like my fashion photography), I do mainly use a DSLR because it is quite fun and handy being able to see the results as you go. I think this allows for more spontaneity as you can see the playback, and that’s normally what sparks a new photo idea for me. And then I’ll always carry a film camera to shoot some ‘behind the scenes’ styled shoots.

 

Who are you inspired by?

Lists can never do inspiration justice but just to name a few: Guy Bourdin, Helmut Newton, Nan Goldin, Juergen Teller, The London Vagabond, Marius Sperlich

 

How do the photographers you’ve listed above inspire you? 

These photographers capture debauchery and erotica with a lot of class, which for me is a blurred line between straight up porn (love it and there’s nothing wrong with it!) and something that tries to say something else. Teller showed me that film is compatible with ‘fashion’ or ‘mainstream’ photography, that you don’t have to choose between DSLR and analogue. Nan Goldin’s photos just ooze with love and I am obsessed with the ‘ode to’ aspects of her photographs that I think has inspired a lot of my own work. The London Vagabond, while I personally wouldn’t class in the same group as the others, has an interesting way of showing an intimate connection with his subjects, who are usually captured in more derogatory or factual ways. For me, his work is so special because it isn’t necessarily ‘the male gaze’ if you actually spend time looking at his work, and it shows a different, cheeky side to these women where you can see that they have control over their imagery. He fits really nicely in between this polarity we seem to have of the male versus female gaze. I think that there is something between these two, and while I don’t have the words to say it, he has the pictures to show it.

And Marius Sperlich is just a genius.

 

Do you usually get inspiration from photographers alone or from other sources?

Photographers have inspired my style and what I’m trying to say in my photos. But in terms of the actual imagery, I get inspired by moods, music, food – as cliché as that sounds. Stupid things interest me; I’ll see a glove a little kid lost and I’ll start to wonder about the bigger meaning of it all and how pretty the pink looks against the grey concrete. I often waste shots of film taking pictures like this, just so I can have a physical print to add to a mood board. A photo like this will help me see that pink tones are what I’m most attracted to at the moment.

Also, materials inspire me, like right now I’m constantly searching for velvet, leather, and raw denim. I can reflect and see how I’m craving for bold statements in my artistic work.

 

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All images are taken by Aisha Al-Abdallah

 

What are your future aspirations?

I’m finding it difficult to see how I can bridge my passion for social anthropology, political economy and curation and photography! So who’s knows where the hell I’ll be in 10 years!

 

Have you ever considered integrating your passion for social anthropology and your interest in political economy with photography?

For sure, that’s the ultimate goal! How I’ll get there I have no idea, but I’m really intrigued by resistance within art. Politically, or even within visual statements against the elitism of art, it all interests me. When you look at the role of graffiti during massive protests, for example, you start to see how art and resistance often go hand in hand, and not just in traditional photojournalism. Imagery is everywhere, look at banknotes and coins for example. Art, I believe, shouldn’t just be seen as a beautiful or anti-beauty cause, it can be ugly and repressive as well. And that’s cool too.

I’m essentially interested in power, and in finding ways to empower people through art, like in curation, or expose how it’s wrong. It’s a calming way for me to balance out the annoyance of academic writing, but at the same time the lack of explanation I find in photography. I feel like I need to the two to get even close to what I’m thinking, but can’t say in concrete forms of communication.

 

Have you ever explored these themes previously with your photography or do you ever intend to document these themes in the future in your style of working?

In my personal, ongoing projects I have documented changes in the urban landscape, like when I first moved to Canterbury. I was surprised to find a wealth of street art in terms of tagging, that actually show how the background was taken into consideration. There are also quite a few bits that popped up during the refugee crisis as well, with our close proximity to Dover and Calais, and (at the time) a strong Conservative county. I found these so crazy beautiful and visually appealing, it’s like tagging isn’t just little shits scribbling on the walls, some people take it so seriously. In terms of my own style of working, I definitely want to push myself as hard photographically as I do in my academic and JMArt Space work.

 

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All images are taken by Aisha Al-Abdallah

But again, when I think about it, maybe this is all why a lot of my stuff shows escapism and elements of fleetingness. Because of my degree, I am often surrounded by themes of violence, repression, and politics, that I look to photography to express a side of me that is a bit more fun and cheeky. My academic writing is a bit unorthodox and at times radical, and its partner in my photography, I guess, is naughtiness and tongue-in-cheek narratives.

 

What’s caused you to be interested in curation? What do you find interesting about it? 

I find that when I lay out my photos on the floor to arrange for viewing, how I present them can really change how the series looks. With curation, finding a way to communicate the artist’s work on another canvas – the wall – adds so many possibilities and can also reveal/affect how the viewer interprets the work. It’s about stepping into several pairs of shoes and really considering what the artist can’t see because it’s not their role to see it, like how can I get their passion and message across and make other people as excited about their work as I am? Plus, I really like finding new talent and being able to ask the artist a million questions – and that it’s actually part of my job!

 

Have you ever had any curatorial experience before?

I do the creative direction for JMArt Space, an online platform for artists of all mediums to express themselves in a sort of studio style base. They are free to take their work down, add, arrange their stuff and use it as a means to navigate their growth as an artist. Through having this ‘space’, the viewers can then step into it and explore the works. To complement this, we also put on events that combine intimate music gigs and art exhibitions, to bring people together and get excited about art. This has been an immense learning curve for me and actually proved to me that curating and organising isn’t just something I like to do on Tumblr (lol), that I can have something to say through other’s words. It’s like another form of self-expression and I love seeing how people engage with the artists they see at JMArt events. It’s really amazing to be with the artists as they see their work on walls for the first time (for some) and makes me humbled to aid in exposing some crazy talented people.

 

What advice would you recommend to young photographers today?

Practice little and often and ALWAYS carry a camera on you! Make sure your phone’s charged, you carry extra film on you, whatever means you have. Taking a shitty photo of something seemingly banal could set the tone for your next shoot.

 

YOU CAN KEEP UP WITH AISHA’S WORK VIA HER WEBSITE OR OVER ON INSTAGRAM!

 

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