Youssef Nabil has established himself as one of the most influential photographers of his generation. Growing up in the cinematic Cairo, Youssef was intoxicated with the golden age of its stars. His works draw inspiration from his childhood memories of black and white films filled with glamour, elegance and melodrama.
Nabil observed his life as if he were in a cinema, watching and witnessing every minute of his own movie. When he realised, as a child, that many of his favourite Egyptian film stars were no longer alive, this kindled a desire to meet those who were still alive and to immortalise them for himself, before they die or before he dies. In so doing, he has created an imaginary reality that reflects both the paradoxes of the Middle East in our times as well as the fantasies and flamboyance of Egyptian movie stars in the cosmopolitan pre-revolutionary years in Cairo.
At the early age of 19 Youssef began his exploration of photography while studying literature at the Ain Shams University. His fascination with the glamour and style of early Egyptian cinema and the hand-coloured family portraits that still adorn most living rooms in Cairo led him to a long friendship with the legendary Egyptian-Armenian photographer Van Leo, who is celebrated for his glamorous studio portraits of famous Egyptian actresses of the 1950s and 60s.
Nabil began his photography career in 1992 by staging tableaux in which his friends acted out melodramas recalling film stills from the golden age of Egyptian cinema. Later in the 1990s, while working as a photographers' assistant in prominent studios in New York and Paris, he began photographing artists and friends, producing both formal portraits as well as placing his subjects in the realms of dreams and sleep, on the edge of consciousness and far from their public personas.
Ehsan & Light, Cairo is an example of these early explorations of the consciousness where the tableau is carefully constructed. This, combined with the use of the age old technique of hand coloured photographs, Youssef constructs a work that is both beautiful and conflicting, inhabiting a sense of the enigmatic.
Many famous artists have been Youssef's subject in the years that followed including Tracey Emin, David Lynch, Faten Hamama, Zaha Hadid and Louise Bourgeois: each sitter's story being told through Youssef's black and white photographs which are painstakingly hand coloured with dream-like dewed tones. In recent works Youssef turned his camera on himself and produced a series of self portraits, each one a guarded composition of the artist travelling alone, containing palpable pangs of longing and displacement.
Youssef Nabil's work has been presented in numerous solo and group exhibitions at Les Rencontres Internationales de La Photographie in Arles; The British Museum, London; Villa Medici, Rome; Savannah College of Art & Design, USA; KunstMuseum Bonn, Germany; Institut Du Monde Arabe, Paris; The Third Line, UAE; Centro Andaluz De Arte Contemporaneo, Sevilla, Spain; The Aperture Foundation, New York City, USA; Centro De La Imagen, Mexico City. In 2003, Nabil was awarded the Seydou Keita Prize for portraiture at the Biennial of African Photography in Bamako. Currently his first film You Never Left starring Fanny Ardant and Tahar Rahim is part of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha Qatar. The film is a self-portrait mirroring the feelings Nabil experienced when he left Egypt and the relationship between leaving and dying.