Youssef Nabil
My time to go, self-portrait, Venice, 2007

Hand-coloured silver gelatin prints
Diptych, 40 x 27cm each
Edition of 10

Youssef Nabil’s first solo exhibition at Michael Stevenson took place in June 2007 and was accompanied by the publication of his first book, Sleep in my arms. This series of hand-coloured photographs – continued here – shows images of boys asleep and undisturbed as well as self-portraits that hover in liminal spheres. The photographs are taken at times and in contexts where we veer into the unconscious, at twilight and at night, in beds and bedrooms, and in the realms of dreams and rest. The subjects, if awake, look aside, or, if asleep, are seemingly unaware of the presence of the camera in a space where they are on the edge of consciousness.

Nabil’s distinctive technique of hand-colouring silver gelatin prints recalls his upbringing in Cairo where hand-coloured family portraits still adorn people’s living rooms. He became close friends with the Egyptian-Armenian photographer Van Leo, celebrated for his studio portraits of Egyptian actresses of the post-war years which he coloured in the same manner. The medium disrupts our sense of time and place and our understanding of technique. The works incorporate both painting and photography; they both are and are not colour photographs, and in terms of evocative associations, they are and are not images of our time.

Nabil was born in Cairo in 1972 and studied literature at Ain Shams University. While working as a photographers’ assistant in prominent studios in New York and Paris in the 1990s, he started producing his own staged, constructed and hand-coloured portraits of close friends, fellow artists and celebrities, as well as self-portraits. In 2003 he was awarded the Seydou Keita Prize for portraiture at the Biennial of African Photography in Bamako, Mali. His previous solo shows include Pour un Moment d’Éternité at the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie in Arles, France, in 2003, and Obsesiones at the Centro de la Imagen, Mexico City, in 2001. His work has featured on numerous curated shows including, in 2006, Arabiske Blikke at the GL Strand Museum in Copenhagen; Word into Art at the British Museum, London; 19 miradas. Fotógrafos árabes contemporáneos, Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Sevilla, Spain; and, in 2005, Nazar, Photographs from the Arab World, Aperture Foundation Gallery, New York, and Regards des Photographes Arabes Contemporains, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris. He is currently working on a book and exhibition entitled Cinema that brings together photographs he has staged over the past 15 years reflecting his fascination with films in the Arab world.

© 2007 Michael Stevenson. All rights reserved.