All copyright Ilyes Griyeb ©
With a style shaped predominantly by a fierce attention to emotive detail and an unwavering accuracy and discipline, I was keen to make Moroccan born and Paris based Ilyes Griyeb part of SEED Monograph. His works, created predominantly in the country of his descendants, chronicles subjects both young and old, within an honest panorama of lament, laughter and luxury…
Dorrell Merritt: Hey Ilyes! I’m gonna start with the Q’s if that’s cool? I saw recently on your Instagram that you’ve been shooting new work in Senegal. What drew you there, and how long were you working there?
Ilyes Griyeb: Well, at first it was for a commission but that ended badly; the client really played me. I then I had two choices: either fly back to Paris or simply shoot the story for myself, without any professional constraints. Of course, I picked the second choice. It ended up that the people I met with and shot were absolutely fascinating and my Moroccan origins helped me a lot while I was there. Really good journey. I was there for approximately 12 days, but only shot during 4 of them.
Sounds great, but a real headache about the client. Was it an issue with pay etc? Did your origins help in a more cultural sense?
Well, the hotel wasn’t booked, the client was away all along… everything was completely messed up. I landed at 4am in Dakar, Senegal to learn all that! Yes, culturally for sure; being an African and a Muslim completely changed the way they saw me at first sight and instead of being a ‘babtou’ (white western male), I became an African average guy. They stopped harassing me with buying their artisanal gifts and started talking to me about their lives.
Many labour intensive mining communities have been documented before, but the salt industry seems to be fairly overlooked. Were many of the men that you met with/interacted with, born into this industry, in the same way that many, say, Englishmen would have been born into mining communities?
I don’t think we can possibly call it an industry, even though this Salt is sold all over the country. It’s more of a community. The Salt Lake is free to anyone who wants to work there; all they ask for is hard work, integrity and honesty. Anyone who has the boat and the muscles can get to work there as his own boss.
So is it a dried Lake that’s harvested for salt? Do most of the people that travel to this area to work, stay on a short or long term basis?
The lake itself is 3 metres deep with 1.5 metres of salt. People come from several countries to work there. I met people from Mali, who previously worked in Saudi Arabia in the skyscraper constructions; I shared with them a couple of arabic words they learned there. The largest part of workers there comes from the nearest village called Niaga.
And where do you currently live? Is it your hometown?
I currently live in Paris but I come from Meknes, in Morocco. Even though I grew up in south of France, I’d still say that I have two hometowns :)
So is most of your (past) works an exploration of your identity, as a French Moroccan, revisiting the lands of your family/predecessors?
I think we can say that. But my work is more about trying to reconnect two separate generations, and understand the origin of the disconnection between the generation of my parents. It’s also about the Western Dream, I guess, that totally killed a generation in Morocco…
Interesting. I try and avoid asking questions about film/photographic mediums etc, but Im intrigued as to how you fell in love with Medium Format Cameras, as I feel as if they are so inexplicably important to your style.
Medium Format came really naturally to me. All the photographers that I love, or most of them, are shooting Medium Format. There is a kind of, I don’t know, poetry in the image that I don’t find with 24x36. Maybe what I’m saying is total BS but it’s important to me to feel that I can get what I want with what I’m using.
Yeah; I guess it provides a lot of space for subjects to… breathe and exist with added context in the frames, if that makes sense…
They let me go with the flow, easily. When I’m with this huge camera in my hands, being at the right spot at the right moment with the right light… I’m just like a child. I love this feeling.
Invincibility, in knowing that everything has come together perfectly for that moment?
I also saw that you recently visited Offprint bookfair in London. I’ve not been yet, but saw lots of hype about it on Twitter. Was it your first time and what did you make of it?
Well, I didn’t have the chance to go there actually…only my book (Moroccan Youth) did the trip. I was at this bachelor party… couldn’t cancel you know…
Ahh haha I see… have you ever been to London before?
Yes, last summer. I have a few friends there.
How do the creative scene and its opportunities of Paris, compare to London for you?
I don’t know much about the art scene in London, but my friends studying at Goldsmiths told me a little about it, and I feel like there is more freedom in London than Paris. London is more open city than Paris.
That’s interesting; you’re not the first French person I’ve met to say that. Changing the subject slightly… If you had to define yourself as an artist using any three of your images, what three would they be?
Hmm. Gimme a sec.
It’s really difficult though. Could they be pictures that I haven’t used yet?
Yeah for sure.
OK then these (1, 2, 3)
I love that BMW one. Im not sure if its the composition, or the lack of number plate or even the dust, but something always draws me to it, on your site. For many people, using Instagram as a means of self promotion is super obvious/a given. Though, many photographers abstain, and many more are undecided, trying to be less caught up in the new age of kudos heavy interactions. How useful is social media for you as a photographer, and how do you feel about its place in 21st century photography?
I had this exact conversations few weeks back with some friends and we ended up thinking that Instagram is still at the beginning of its life. I think that it is going to be our main content provider in years to come (if it’s not already, for a big amount of us). A lot of photographers I think, try to play hard to get, by not posting their personal work on Instagram, but this application is growing into a smart-media, full with very interesting images. It’s a world of emerging photographers ready to be known, and I’m thankful for that. It breaks the natural ways of magazine, galleries etc, and gives the ability to curate ourselves by ourselves and I think this freedom is important.
What would you say is your most visited, non-photographic account on there?
I don’t have a lot of real non photographic accounts on there but I follow some book editors. I love @drawdownbooks.
Your series ‘Moroccan Youth’ was one of the first that I had come across when discovering your work, and the impact of the combination of great scans, edits and exposures, with the informal and familiar approach you took with the subjects, gave it a real immersive and intimate quality. What was it like working with these subjects who were in some ways so Westernised in their lifestyles? Were they accepting of you, sharing things in common with them, or did they treat you like an outsider still?
‘Moroccan Youth’ is a very personal series to me, and about my hometown in Morocco as well as my cousin and his friends. They are all like family to me, so acceptance was not an issue at all; it’s more the contrary, I had to make them forget me for a while and forget that the camera was there. I really tried to give an inner vision of the Moroccan youth, being myself one of them, even though I’m slightly different, having being educated in a Western country. I took a lot of time to shoot it; to think about it, and try to narrate it in the more intimate/real way possible.
So it was a really chilled experience in terms of shooting?
Absolutely chill, and I really wanted it to be.
And of course, fashion and car-culture play a big part of what makes the series so intriguing, and relatable in terms of say, British youth culture. How important would you say these things are to the youth in Morocco?
Those designer clothes and cars are the only things that they have to keep up with the Western dream many of them have. Being the ones that haven’t been able to leave their country, or aren’t willing to, they try to re-create this dream in their daily reality. For instance; motorcycles are shared by several people, and be sure that each one of them will claim it’s his in front of the girls etc.
And is it an overall emerging subculture of Western adaption, or has it been there for some decades now?
It’s been there for a while. It comes from the immigrants that made it to Europe and when they’d return in the summer, they’d bring their styles with them; their clothes. They’re also influenced by TV, since many have around 250 channels on their screens.
And is Hip-Hop culture prevalent there do you think?
Yes, Hip-Hop culture is the only western music culture allowed over there.
Yes, in a social sense. Like it’s a code. If you listen to rock’n roll you just look so strange to them. Hip-hop has always been the music of the working class I guess.
How good is your Hip-hop knowledge. I have a quote; I wanna see if you can guess the rapper.
Go on, I have a very good french Hip-Hop knowledge. Not sure I will get it though :)
“Do a donut then I hop out of the Benz; still in the hood like ATM’s that give tens”- a quote by Meyhem Lauren or RZA?
I’d say RZA, but I don’t know the other guy.
Haha no, but in fairness, it’s a pretty obscure quote. I’ve been missing skateboarding loads recently… I was wondering, can you skateboard?
Not at all. You skateboarders were kind of our enemies growing up haha.
And now look, everyone wants to skateboard! All of the subcultures have met in the middle, and in the middle is skateboarding and skate culture.
Skateboard has a major following nowadays, true.
Tell me a little bit about your upcoming work with Bromance Records.
They contacted me in a hurry asking me to shoot an EP cover for two beatmakers in Paris. Everything happened very quickly. I ended up shooting this thing 2 days later with Myth Syzer and Ikaz Boi. I don’t do a lot of commissioned work though. I try to keep my photography as much as personal as I can.
Fuck. Did you have ideas in mind, or..?
No, absolutely no idea. I gave the shoot location two hours before we started shooting and it ended up being in a drug dealing area in Paris! They threw some beer bottles from the 20th floor to makes us understand that we weren’t really welcome haha.
Sounds sketchy. So as someone who has self-published before; done several photography trips and has three well circulated series under their belt, how do you think you want to progress with your practice? Are things like galleries/curators on your radar at all? What’s the future for you, do you think?
Well yes, I’ve had a few propositions before, but I’m really not in a hurry at all. I want to keep it natural; I wanna still feel like a child when I’m shooting in twenty years time. I don’t want it to seem like a job or something. I’m really emotional regarding work; I can give my best when I feel surrounded by good energies and the worse if the mood or vibe is the contrary. I also had some contact with the fashion world, but I’m not interested. I aim for galleries, for art fairs, etc, for sure but I’m waiting for them to come to me; If they come :)
Do you have a motto/credo?
Not really… but I like some of the 24 rules of Werner Herzog
Oh I remember those. Fuck I needed to read some of those; need that in my life… what’s your favourite breed of Dog?
Last question. What do you think some photographers of our generation, forget about photography?
Maybe that photography is a chance to say something that means something. I’m not saying that people need to put sense into every single thing they do; everything shouldn’t be meaningful. But sometimes sidelining your skills for the sake of aesthetic, is a waste of talent.