JONATHAN CHERRY: What got you started with photography?
MUSTAFAH ABDULAZIZ: I saw Avedon’s In The American West in a book store and couldn’t get it out of my head. It truly changed my life. I was set on flight school and being a pilot.
JC: Any emerging artists inspiring you at the moment?
MA: I’ve moved away from singling out specific bodies of work or photographers for inspiration. I connect with series of images in close proximity to each other, the same as I do towards scenes in a film or parts of a song when it just hits on so many levels. Pari Dukovic’s “Kiss Kiss” of fashion week is really nice for this reason, because it moves me around. My mate Ayman Oghanna had the VICE photo issue cover last year from an image of a soldier pointing a hand gun at a dog in Afghanistan and it’s such a precise note to hear after seeing so much imagery from that war. As whole pieces, maybe Paul D’Amato’s “Barrio” work and Paul Fusco’s “RFK Train” are something I can process whole and stay with it. They’re not contemporary or emerging but I don’t really differentiate. It works for me or it doesn’t. Geordie Wood’s portraits of A$AP Rocky are gorgeous. Zhang Kechun’s “Yellow River” has this color-content transition I absolutely envy.
JC: Whats your current project all about?
MA: The project I’ve been working on the last 3 years is called Memory Loss. It’s a very singular, personal view of the people and places in my country. It began from a feeling of distance and alienation from my previous work and an outlet to do something that made sense to me regardless if it made sense to anyone else. The duality of my separation from how my countrymen lived and how my opinions of photography was changing is what propelled the project. In Memory Loss they go hand-in-hand. It feels good to develop this and through it, myself. I’ve put it on hiatus while I develop a new, more journalistic project in the same format.
JC: Where are you currently living and how is it shaping you?
MA: I’ve been living in Berlin, Germany for the last year. It’s been a challenging experience but uniquely fulfilling. My mind is always on here, always adapting and observing. The whole experience has really calmed me as a person and humbled me as a photographer. Trial and error is how I came into photography and now I feel an intense clarity of purpose towards what to apply my energy to, how it needs to be done and whom I want to do it with. This is only something you gain through sweat and labor. It’s a strange thing to go on these road-trips weeks at a time and fall in love with my own country while living in someone else’s.
JC: One piece of advice to recent photography graduates?
MA: I never went to school for photography so I don’t know what that experience is like. I took one black & white class in college and failed it. My views on photography are somewhere between an incredible responsibility and a gateway to such an incredible awareness of this world we share. I say embrace the allusiveness, the difficulties of the craft and above all shoot for yourself. You may work for a publication or client and it’s necessary to provide a visual, useful product and develop mutually beneficial relationships but ultimately that’s not what people respond to in photographs. You are the denominator of interest and if your heart and blood is not in your prints, why should anyone feel anything?
Work hard. Be relentless in this. Keep yourself open to influence in the medium and your peers. If you pay the toll of the craft and truly commit yourself then your own ambition and fulfilment is the only measure which you judge your development. If you’re putting your own money into a project, your time and energy, then no one sitting at a desk is going to sweat with you in the bush. Your ideas and work cannot be summarized in a flip of an iPad page in a 15-minute meeting. I’d be worried if it did. Yet it’s a tricky balance and I’m still trying to navigate it.
If your goal is to make money, I’d recommend the financial sector. But if your goal is to make something of your time here on this beautiful world, then do what you care about.
JC: Any big plans for 2012?
MA: Like Robert Burns said, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men.” I try not to make too too many big plans. I’m focusing on immediate objectives, accomplishing them and staying healthy. When it comes time to push myself and go beyond what I’ve done before, I want to be prepared.
JC: Favourite tree?
MA: The kind books are made from.