Ashley: Hi Yasser! So nice to speak with you today. Why don’t we get started by getting to know you a little better. Tell us, where are you from and how did you get into photography and, more specifically, street photography?
Yasser: Hello Ashley and Bob! Yes, well, I was born and raised in Alexandria, Egypt. I started photography at the age of 18 during the Egyptian Revolution. The revolution was a new event in my country, which I was interested in documenting. I worked as a photojournalist at PBS NewsHour and Youth Journalism International. Photojournalists are always in the streets shooting and that’s what made me fall in love with street photography.
Ashley: Wow, that is so interesting. I’m sure that experience laid an excellent foundation for your street photography work. Nowadays, how would you describe your work?
Yasser: My work is simple and focuses on artistic composition, human element and colors. Just like the fingers on our hands are each unique, every photographer’s vision is distinct, so I’m always keen on showing my own photographic vision to the audience.
Bob: That’s a great comparison Yasser. What’s one of your favorite photos with a strong “human element?”
Yasser: My favorite photo is the Mourning of Muharram which I took in Delhi, India. I saw the reaction of the man and I wanted to shoot it only but I found that the picture will be boring so I kept moving and changing angles till I found this girl and her father and used them to frame the man. I used f/7.1 aperture to show details of the out of focus girl face. The monochrome made it a dramatic image.
Ashley: That really is a beautiful, well-thought-out image. I know you said each photographer has his own unique vision, but are there any photographers whose work you draw inspiration from? Yasser: Yes, documentary Egyptian Photographer Ashraf Talaat who is my mentor and Steve McCurry as well.
Bob: What is it about Talaat’s and McCurry’s work that appeals to you?
Yasser: What I like about Talaat’s work is his timing and spontaneity. What I like about McCurry’s work is the stories told through his portraits.
Bob: Timing, spontaneity and storytelling – definitely three skills all street photographers need. Specifically though, how have these two photographers influenced your own work?
Yasser: Well, Ashraf Talaat taught me how to shoot dynamic and spontaneous compositions. His circus story is my favorite series. And Steve McCurry inspired me with his Afghan portrait, which has made me try to shoot portraits where faces convey stories.
Ashley: What would you say is the biggest challenge you’ve faced with street photography and how have you overcome it?
Yasser: My biggest challenge was that people in my country aren’t used to be photographed. I overcome this by interacting with them, by introducing myself and explaining why I’m photographing and how I will use the photograph. After taking a shot, I show them the picture and listen to their opinion.
Ashley: That sounds like a really effective approach! On a different topic, I’m curious about the platform you use to share your work: Cargo Collective. What’s it all about? And how have you benefited from being a part of it?
Yasser: Cargo Collective is a professional site building platform for designers and artists. I sent a request to create an account and sent them my Flickr account, they reviewed my work and agreed to let me make an account. I like that they have templates which look exactly like websites not like blogs.
Ashley: I see. Thanks for sharing that might be a good resource for some of our readers to look into. Getting back to your photography though, I noticed a lot of your street photos involve people performing different rites of worship – is there a reason for that or a meaning behind it?
Yasser: I started to focus on the topics of religion and worship after I moved to India to work as an instructor at Delhi College of Photography. I was amazed by the diversity of religions that exist in India and how many Indians are religious. I had students who were Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. I enjoyed hearing stories about their religions from them and that got me interested in documenting and exploring religions through photography.
Bob: Wow, you taught at a photography school. You know, we are often told by photography instructors that they learn more from the act of teaching than the students learn from them. While teaching at Delhi College, what did you learn most from your students? Can you share an example of a favorite story?
Yasser: Sure. Mainly, I learned acceptance and tolerance from them. I was impressed by how Indians are religious and have diverse religions and yet they live in peace and accept one another. Indian students have huge respect for their teachers – they consider them gurus. I was shocked when I found my students touching my knee using their hands then kissing their hands as a sign of respect for the teacher.
“My work is simple and focuses on artistic composition, human element and colors.”
Ashley: There really is so much to learn from others. I noticed that when you do street portraits, your subject’s background seems very intentional. I’d like to learn how you choose the perfect background for a photo.
Yasser: I believe that while doing street photography, I meet many interesting faces, but if I find a unique face and want to shoot it, I’m sure this face will attract other photographers too. That’s why I’m always keen on making my subject move to background I choose which matches his personality to be able to create different photograph.
Ashley: Interesting. I love candid street portraits, but I’m the first to admit there are plenty of good reasons to interact with your subjects too. In your search for unique subjects and fitting backgrounds, where has been your favorite place to photograph so far?
Yasser: My favorite place of photography is the Nubian Village in Aswan because it’s full of colorful houses and great kind people.
Bob: What was your favorite photograph from that place?
Yasser: The Nubian Man is my favorite portrait I shoot in Nubian Village. The man is very original, his body language and way of sitting is very unique and the colorful kilim under him is really nice too.
Ashley: That is a beautiful shot. Do you have an all time favorite street photography moment?
Yasser: My most memorable moments are printing photographs and giving them to the subjects. It’s a simple act really, but it means a lot to the person in the photo.
Bob: I bet. I’m sure that act has really affected some of your subjects!
Yasser: Yes, it has. When I gave a print to the father of a young girl I photographed, he got very emotional because he didn’t have an image of this daughter to look at when he missed her.
Ashley: What a great story! You got to share your portrait with the person who would appreciate it the most. So, what’s next for you Yasser? Do you have any upcoming projects or any specific goals you are working on right now?
Yasser: I’m planning to travel to Nepal to photograph the temples of Hinduism and Buddhism.
Bob: That’s interesting, tell us more about your trip.
Yasser: It will be an expedition to Kathmandu Valley with some Indian students to explore the temples.
Ashley: You’ll have to send us some of your images from that trip. I’m sure it will be amazing. We have one last question for you Yasser, and it’s a big one: What has street photography taught you?
Bob: Yes, and how has it affected your life and work?
Ashley: Ok, correction – two big questions!
Yasser: Really, street photography has taught me how to interact with strangers, how to be kind, how to appreciate and respect others. And in my own life, it’s taught me to be more social and has helped me interact more with everyone I know and meet.
Ashley: Thanks so much Yasser, we really enjoyed talking to you today.
Bob: Yes, thank you Yasser! We look forward to seeing more work from your upcoming projects.