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Photography book review: Youssef Nabil, with text by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Marina Abramovic


Youssef Nabil’s work oscillates between a personal photographic journal and portraits featuring internationally renowned film stars, directors, popular musicians, artists, architects, and choreographers.

The influence of early cinema on this acclaimed Egyptian photographer is evident. Using an unusual technique of colouring gelatine silver prints by hand or drawing over colour prints – part photography and part painting – he creates an imaginary reality that reflects both the paradoxes of the Middle East today and the flamboyant fantasies of the golden age of Egyptian film in the cosmopolitan pre-revolutionary years in Cairo.

He has also photographed many international stars, including Sting, John Waters, David Lynch, Isabella Rossellini, Gilbert and George, Tracey Emin, Louise Bourgeois, Zaha Hadid, Omar Sharif, and Robert Wilson.

Since 2003, he has produced a number of self-portraits (such as this one in Essaouira) that reflect his dislocated life away from Egypt – often taken from behind or in profile, and either naked or in a djellaba – in settings linked to his childhood or his travels. These scenes portray a combination of worldly realities and serene dreams, loneliness, and fame, eroticism, and death.