Moroccan artist Ismail Zaidy creates photography that invites the viewer to meditate on notions of space, time, and family
Two people are positioned face to face. One standing, the other sitting. They are bound together but do not touch, despite their efforts. As they pose immobile in the vast Agafay desert, Moroccan photographer Ismail Zaidy captures the frame. “The photo reflects the issue of accepting another, or accepting difference,” comments Zaidy of his work. “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 even discuss them. It leaves us both alone and empty, in the end.”
For the past two years, Zaidy has been creating images of life as he knows it with heightened fervor. His passion was ignited when he started casually taking pictures. “I was impressed by my imagination, and, my eye sees,” he says, shrugging off the notion that inspiration came from an outsider. His work represents a mood and Zaidy’s subjects are often photographed alone. It’s an atmosphere that is relatable now more than ever with the spread of Covid-19. Social isolation and distancing is the new normal but perhaps, posits Zaidy, it is a physical representation of a sickness that has long plagued families.
“Nowadays we see less contact between families; it’s a gap that has been created by technology for teens and life’s hardships for parents,” he offers. “I try to showcase the subject of family in my photography to influence people who follow my work and try to communicate its importance.”
The 23-year-old, self-taught photographer experimented with various creative fields – writing, graphic design – before landing on photography. Zaidy began shooting by first taking pictures of “anything and everything” when he was 20. He took pictures of his surroundings from his upstairs terrace, using any means available to develop and grow. As his technique started to fine-tune itself, he discovered a style where he had the most freedom of expression.
Zaidy’s camera of choice is a Samsung Galaxy S5, while lately he has been experimenting with an iPhone 8 Plus. He smiles that while he also has a traditional camera, he has yet to take any pictures with it. He considers photography the medium that helps him to finally express himself. “It is a way for me to freely say everything and fully unleash my potential,” he comments.
His creative process starts with finding an idea, then searching for props from various flea markets, and finally coordinating a shoot with his brother and sister. His siblings often pose for him and he admits to calling on his brother Othmane and sister Fatimazohra to navigate around a lack of models. “Sometimes everything gets put on hold when they have exams,” Zaidy laughs. “My family is my art and source of inspiration,” he continues. “They are my first supporters; they’re a major part of my work.” He describes his nucleus as a “normal Moroccan family – supportive, loving, but also protective.” Zaidy’s artistic influences also encompass his Moroccan roots. “The heritage that our ancestors left us,” he asserts.
Traditional photography competitions don’t interest the budding artist, for the moment. “I entered a competition once. It was a local one, for the best Instagram account in the country, but since then, I haven’t entered anything,” he says. Between the lines, he seems to express that the notion of “winning” is of no importance to him.
“I discovered Ismail’s work a couple of years ago and became a big fan,” says fellow Moroccan photographer Hassan Hajjaj. “I love his color palette and use of space. I also love that he uses his family in his pictures and shoots on his house roof that he calls his studio and that he uses his mobile phone as his camera. For me, he is the true new generation Moroccan artist.”
If competitions do not incite Zaidy’s creative spirit, he does aspire for his work to be known. Hajjaj has recently included it in an art show at Riad Yima in Marrakech, on until the fall. “I want to become an inspiration for other generations; a reference in my genre,” nods Zaidy. “I want my work to become my legacy long after I’m gone.” He expresses great hope that “things will go back to the way they were between family members. Quarantine is an opportunity for everyone to be with their families, to mend relationships.” Nowadays, every little moment carries great value.