As I writer I've always struggled with the concept of "A picture is worth a thousand words." Really?? How can 1,000 words be captured in one single image? But all it takes is one soul-piercing photograph and you'll understand; that one photo that feels like it is talking right to you and all you want to do is listen to the story forever.
And that is how I feel when I view fine arts photographer Yassine El Mansouri's work -- moved. I've worked with Yassine on several fashion-based shoots and have always been amazed at how he captures the beauty of the upscale fashion world and infuses it with a bit of grit to give it just enough edge. But I've also seen Yassine just as at home in the world of private event photography or working on one of his biggest personal projects, Observation 001, which captures Washingtonians surrounded by their entire wardrobes. He is not a photographer limited by categories, but rather a storyteller constantly on the lookout for the next thousand words he can convey through his lens.
So without further ado, let's turn the mic over to the man making the magic, Yassine!
What first inspired your interest in photography?
My father, he was an amateur photographer. He built a darkroom in the closet between two rooms in the old apartment we lived in. I remember the darkroom process -- especially the enlarger and chemicals -- more than the picture taking.
When did you pick up your first camera and what was it?
My first memory of using a camera to express myself might be when I was eleven. I did a photoshoot with my older sister at home. She was my model. Around the same time, I used to stay up at night to set up little scenes with little figurines in my room and capture them with the camera. I have no idea what kind of camera it was. Unfortunately, I have never seen those photographs, but they are engraved in my memory.
Later on, in my teenage years, I picked up an SLR (single-lens reflex) Minolta that belonged to my father and started documenting the skateboarding scene in Rabat, Morocco.
What is your camera of choice today?
I carry two Canon 5D Mark IIIs at all times on assignment. I do like the colors that Canon delivers.
What’s your favorite type of photography?
I lean more toward fine arts photography, but I also like work that transgresses types.
What photo are you most proud of?
It will be the photo series I did for the Observation 001 project in the summer of 2014. I had the good fortune to meet then Artisphere curator, Ryan Holladay. He believed in the project and helped me secure the black box theater for a week to shoot my project.
I financed the project with my own money and had two assistants/friends commit to work with me for the whole week. We ended up working, on average, 16 hours a day, and more than 20 people came at different times to volunteer. I was overwhelmed by the number of participants that answered the call and by the community of friends around me that did all they could to help.
Here is a video that was shot by Felicia Barr/ Bill McKenna for BBC documenting the project -- it aired on BBC America and BBC World News in September 2014.
What is your coolest/most memorable experience while shooting?
Thankfully there are many...
Being at the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, shooting a private event. During the downtime, I found myself alone in the hall of mirrors while the sun was setting.
At the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors, I enjoyed a brief but human interaction with Jimmie Vaughan while he was holding Jeff Beck’s guitar. He wasn’t easy to read, but at the moment when I pointed my camera toward him he posed for me and smiled -- I could tell that he was happy and proud.
What’s at the top of your photography bucket list?
Work more on my personal projects.
Where are your five favorite places to photograph in the DMV area?
Wherever the light is right! Washington, D.C. is a beautiful city.
Can you share some advice for aspiring photographers?
Keep learning the techniques. Find your voice. It’s a long Journey.
What’s one of your hobbies outside of photography?
Long walks at nights when everybody is sleeping, longboarding (unfortunately I don’t do it as much as would like to), dancing, and recently, riding my motorcycle.
What’s your motto to live by?
“Be yourself -- everyone else is already taken.”