Ismail Zady is a 22 year-old Moroccan who's developed from a photography enthusiast into a national inspiration. Being able to flip the limitations he's faced to benefit him, Ismail has paved the way for many aspiring photographers in Morocco to follow through with their passions. Sitting down with him over glasses of Whisky Berbère, Ismail spoke on accessibility, how his family have consistently been the subjects of many of his shoots and why he started shooting with a Samsung S5.
Tell us about yourself and what got you into photography?
I started taking pictures about two years ago just before I finished my studies at university. My mum used to be a photographer so there was something bubbling up in me to continue the same thing. I began taking pictures of my surroundings upstairs in my terrace. After time, I started taking it more seriously. I used the means available to me to develop and grow.
How is it navigating a photography career in Morocco?
It's not been easy, but relative to my peers and other people who are trying to do something creative out here in Morocco, it's been easier.
People don't respect the process of starting something new - it will never be perfect at the start. People were laughing and making jokes. As time moved on and I started to progress and improve the quality of my output, the same people wanted to either become friends or ask for things from me.
Art, in our culture, isn't necessarily a professional avenue that our families see as valid or correct. I'm blessed to say I didn't have to face this problem. Although I have traditional Moroccan parents, they're loving and supporting of me. My brother and sister are always involved whether it be from a conceptual point of view, modelling or both. My mother is in some of my shoots too.
Tell me more about using your brother and sister in your shoots.
In the beginning finding models and arranging shoots with them would be tricky. Time, organisation and getting them to the shoot are things that can be quite long and expensive. I would always have my brother and sister readily available so that's how I navigated around the problem of models.
It's not a thing where I exclusively use my brother or sister either. It's one of those things where we're able to share this comfort and beautiful energy between each other. That's why we've continued to all work with each other. They're not just models. We work on ideas together, we support each other and different concepts always get thrown back and forth.
I heard you only use your phone as your camera?
I needed something to capture, but I didn’t have the means. From 2010 to 2017 something was cooking up in me. I just began to use my Samsung S5 to start taking photos. I really don’t have a problem with what camera I use, but of course there are issues that come up with only using a mobile phone. You're not able to print certain sizes otherwise the larger prints will be too pixelated.
Whether it be a phone or camera, I just wanted something to use to capture.
What ways do you incorporate your Moroccan heritage into your art?
I’m a person that does a lot of research into my art and photography. Photography in Morocco exhibits, or can be portrayed as exhibiting, Orientalist views. I try to show our culture and our identity in a way that isn't so "traditional".
There are recurring details and clothing in my photos typical to that of my heritage - the djellaba, niqab and hijab. The photos are taken in our land too, but it doesn't have to necessarily look like Morocco, or have art and patterns that people probably associate with Morocco. Above all, I look to include the components of what make me who I am, which is why my family are a big part of my photos.
I have this picture in the Agafay desert where my friend Yazid and my brother are modelling. The photo reflects the issue of accepting another, or accepting difference. We might feel the same way about something or share a similar idea, but because we're not of the same nation or tribe, we won't accept each other's views or discuss them even. It leaves us both alone and empty in the end. We're equals and we're creatives in North Africa, but our pride divides us.
In the other photo my mother's in the back smiling and my sister's in the front. Even though she is in the front of the photo, she's a young woman in a dark industry, but still has the support of her mother and family. There are a lot of different meanings when you work with your own family and friends. It make's the photo more personal and relatable. Working with models can make you more detached from your work.
What does travel mean to you?
Even though I haven't travelled outside Morocco - I recently went to Oued Zem where my mother's from and where my grandma's living. Watching people and how they carry themselves on an everyday basis is interesting. I was watching a documentary about Iran and from that I saw them style the hijab in more ways than I was familiar with. I imagine travelling to Sudan, Kuwait, Egypt... places that share similarities with the country I'm from, but are ultimately different. There are little distinctions and cultural nuances that I know I can be inspired by.
It’s not my plan to travel just so I can take pictures. I want to travel to experience other cultures. I want to soak up cultures, different points of view and then get inspired by them to do whatever I feel. I want to see how people work, learn and then grow.