Voices of African Photography: Dancing with Casablanca’s light

(Yassine Alaoui Ismaili)

Voices of African Photography is a 10-part series presented in partnership with the African Photojournalism Database, a joint project of Everyday Africa and World Press Photo, to highlight the work of 10 African photographers and photojournalists.

Moroccan-born photographer Yassine Alaoui Ismaili, also known as “Yoriyas,” is no stranger to the Casablanca street scene. As a teenager, Yoriyas became passionate about hip-hop and joined the first wave of break-dancers in Morocco in the 1980s. While traveling to international competitions, he came equipped with his camera to document the journey with his dance crew. But following a serious knee-injury, break-dancing at the same pace was no longer an option. Instead, Yoriyas took to the streets — the very same streets he would spend hours performing on with his friends — and began documenting his hometown, Casablanca.

Yoriyas recalled introducing himself as a Casablanca-native to strangers around the world when traveling to dance competitions, to which they would reply “Casablanca, like the movie!” This repetitive encounter ignited Yoriyas’ desire to offer a glimpse of the Morocco he knows, which is far from the glamour of the Hollywood studio where “Casablanca,” the 1942 classic, was filmed. The photo series “Casablanca Not The Movie” was thus born. Yoriyas presents a “love letter” to his city “for all of those who want to see a truthful representation of Casablanca and Morocco,” he says. Independently from this series, Yoriyas also captures scenes around Morocco, such as in Essaouira for the Gnawa Music Festival during which he experimented with flash photography on the outskirts of the festival where street life and the Gnawa music’s rhythm would blend into one.

As an African photographer, Yoriyas believes there is still work to do in terms of getting African photographers’ work attention in the international photography scene. “I think we should question (…) the way the world looks [at] and thinks about Africa,” Yoriyas says. He is interested in seeing more documentary, street and daily photography from African photographers in an effort to elevate local narratives.

When asked about the photography scene throughout the continent, Yoriyas told In Sight that initially his photos were not welcome in many African photography festivals and magazines, and he relied instead on social media to share his work. Recently though, Yoriyas’s playful eye has been recognized by numerous publications, galleries and festivals around the world, enabling his work to travel around Europe, the African continent and the United States (his photos will be displayed in the “Foreseen: New Narratives from the African Photojournalism Database” container exhibit in this year’s Photoville in New York).

Back home, Yoriyas was invited by his mentor, the Moroccan photographer Hassan Hajjaj, to present his work in Hajjaj’s Riad Yima in Marrakesh as part of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in February 2018. At Riad Yima, Yoriyas also performed to live Gnawa music with his camera, rendering his own version of “breakdance Gnawa,” a contemporary interpretation of Gnawa performance merged with breakdance moves. Yoriyas was also the recipient of this year’s CAP Prize for Contemporary African Photography.

Whether it be through his subject matters or his way of capturing street life, Yoriyas is still very much influenced by dance on a daily basis. A friend of his, photographer Guy Thimel, once told him “The way you move: You change the level of your camera from up, to down, then you turn around  —  it’s like you’re dancing.”

The next installment of Voices of African Photography will be published on October 1. 

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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