Youssef Nabil observes his life as if he were in a cinema, watching and witnessing every minute of his own movie. He is fascinated by the idea that in cinematic stories the actors are playing a game in which nothing is real, and if they die in the film they don't actually die in real life. When he realised, as a child, that many of his favourite Egyptian film stars were no longer alive, this kindled a desire to meet those who were still alive and to immortalise them for himself, before they die or before he dies. In so doing, he has created an imaginary reality that reflects both the paradoxes of the Middle East in our times as well as the fantasies and flamboyance of Egyptian movie stars in the cosmopolitan pre-revolutionary years in Cairo.
Nabil began his photography career in 1992 by staging tableaux in which his friends acted out melodramas recalling film stills from the golden age of Egyptian cinema. Later in the 1990s, while working as a photographers' assistant in prominent studios in New York and Paris, he began photographing artists and friends, producing both formal portraits as well as placing his subjects in the realms of dreams and sleep, on the edge of consciousness and far from their public personas. On his return to Egypt in 1999 he further developed his unique approach to hand painted photography, with portraits of writers, singers and film stars of the Arab world. In recent years, especially since settling in Paris and New York, he has started producing self-portraits that reflect his dislocated life away from Egypt. In these liminal scenes he lingers between worldly realities and serene dreams, loneliness and fame, tinged with sex and death.
Nabil's distinctive technique of hand-colouring silver gelatin photographs removes the blemishes of reality and recalls the heyday of Egyptian film. Nabil disrupts prevalent notions of colour photography and painting, as well as assumptions about the type of aesthetics associated with art and those identified with popular culture. His particular medium evokes a sense of longing and nostalgia and allows his photographs to flicker between our time and another era.