Art Dictionary

Youssef Nabil


Youssef Nabil (*1972 in Cairo), lives and works in New York. 1993: Ain Shams University in Cairo. 2003: The Seydou Keita Prize for Portraiture. 2005: International Photography Award. Nabil's work has been seen in many solo and group shows.

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Youssef Nabil

Youssef Nabil
I Won't Let You Die

out of print
ISBN 978-3-7757-2306-0
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Leading figures from the world of film, music, and literature, as well as numerous artists, have posed for Nabil´s camera

“I want to photograph everyone I love.” (Youssef Nabil)

Even as a young boy, Youssef Nabil loved watching old Egyptian films at the cinema. Today this aesthetic can be found in his photographic works. The hand-colored shots betray a nostalgic yearning for the glamour, elegance, and melodrama of the golden years of Hollywood.

Leading figures from the world of film, music, and literature, as well as numerous artists, have posed for Nabil´s camera; they include Louis Bourgeois, Andreas Gursky, Zaha Hadid, and Shirin Neshat, but also David Lynch, Omar Sharif, Sting, or Naguib Mahfouz. After finishing a literature degree, Nabil started taking his first portraits of friends in the early nineteen nineties. They aimed at reconstructing particular film scenes, enabling him to preserve them for himself in his own way. In the beginning he photographed in black and white, but later he started hand-coloring his photographs in a manner similar to old films.

In the nineteen seventies and eighties, this archaic technique could be found on posters and photographs across Egypt. One might say that Nabil grew up with them. Later, Nabil travelled to New York and Paris, where he worked as an assistant to the photographers David LaChapelle and Mario Testino, who encouraged him to embark on a career as an artist.

In his portrait series, Nabil is concerned with getting very close to his subjects. He aims at excluding everything decorative, such as clothes and gestures, in order to capture the person close up. The resulting sense of intimacy is palpable. But other works also show that Nabil is not afraid of pathos: many of his pictures deal with death, love, and sexuality. His oriental background is recognizable everywhere, and it is precisely this that makes the photographs so unique.

June 28, 2010 Caroline Schilling

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