About the cover:
Our December cover image by artist, photographer and creative director Abdullah Alsaleh invites us to embrace our inner free spirit, and a life full of dreams, for this holidy season. The artist’s series arrives as a collaboration with Dalal to showcase her magical hula hooping skills as well as her beautiful personality. They developed the concept for the shoot together, built the props that were used and chose the location.
Little did I know that, when I first met 21-year-old Abdullah Alsaleh earlier this year, I would be interviewing him about his work, let alone feature one of his stunning photographs as our December cover. Fast forward to a curious Instagram browse one November afternoon, and I was reintroduced to Abdullah’s incredible visual experiences living and studying in New York City. With every photo I saw and madly liked, I had a question. To which, he always had a fascinating story to share. From shooting at NYFW for Michael Costello to the back streets of Al-Sawaber in Kuwait City, Abdullah always has a scintillating visual story to tell.
Hi Abdullah, please introduce yourself to our readers.
I am a 21-year-old student in New York City, Born and raised in Kuwait. I had the opportunity to experience two different cultures throughout my life, with my mother being Algerian and my father from Kuwait. I am the only son with two older sisters or best friends, I should say, who are if anything, the biggest role models I looked up too and still look up to. Going back and forth from Kuwait to Algeria expanded the way I think, as well as the experiences I have been through. I am, as every creative would say, a starving artist wanting to meet more people and experience new things to get inspired.
When did you first become interested in photography?
I’ve always had this creative energy in me that I did not know what to channel it towards. I grew up with a sister for an artist so she was always an inspiration when it came to me trying to project my creative energy. I started off with sketching those typical sun house stick figures to painting and drawing to finally photography. It was a couple of years ago, when a few of my very close friends who are also photographers, invited me to help them with a shoot they have organized that I had the opportunity to pick up a professional camera and actually participate in a shoot. Ever since then, I have not been able to stop, it’s like a constant need or hunger that I have to feed every day.
Where are you currently based, and what are you working on right now?
As I am completing my undergrad studies in the US, I am currently based in New York City, although I go back and forth to Kuwait multiple times throughout the year. Currently I am gathering inspirations from different perspective in hopes of creating a project I’ve longed imagined to turn into reality.
What inspires the various series that you’ve worked on, and what do you wish to communicate with your work?
There are so many inspirations when it comes to my work. I think I am greatly inspired by whatever atmosphere I’m surrounded by. Negative or positive, the way my experiences or inspirations translate too in my work is always a message or an emotion that I install from myself and the person I am photographing onto the photograph. It could be as simple as feelings that are invoked from music that I hear, art pieces that I see, stories that I hear from the subjects, or an actual situation I’ve lived through that resonates with me strongly. I wish to communicate exactly the emotion that I am trying to deliver through my pieces, but I love hearing different interpretations because it gives me a different perspective of how people feel about a certain topic or theme which is always intriguing.
Do you have a specific series that you favor more than others?
I wouldn’t say favor, I’d rather say there are definitely series that have a much more stronger message that I relate or feel strongly towards than others. There are specific series that I can remember why and how they happened like it was an hour ago. the first one was with a best friend of mine [Badriyah] that I’ve shared so much of my life with, who I feel so connected to. In result, when I asked Badriyah to shoot, everything just flowed so naturally and we both communicated with each other during and before the shoot so easily because we both knew what kind of message we wanted to present.
The other series was with another close friend of mine who I’ve had the lovely chance to get to know this year. We’ve worked with each other on so many different types of shoots, but this one was close to both of our hearts and we both felt so strongly towards the message we wanted to deliver. A wedding dress that was created with the help of my extremely talented sister Sara and the huge space of Sawaber, an old complex in Kuwait City, both Dalal and I managed to create such a beautiful set of pictures that successfully evoked the specific emotions and feelings that we both aimed our audience would feel.
What do you think is your key shooting strategy? (In layman’s terms, How do you get your subjects to execute a specific pose, or even emote a specific feeling, that you had in mind?)
With some subjects, they embrace exactly how and what I want them to do before we start shooting, mostly because we are both on the same page of what kind of message is being delivered. Other subjects are different and understand the theme of the shoot more when the shoot is actually happening, and in some situations, the original idea changes, which is amazing because the subjects are a huge inspiration to me and the final result of project. I definitely direct movements and postures throughout the shoot, that are always connected to the message I am trying to present. The location and the outfit/clothing is also chosen by me relating to the message or “feel” of the shoot. Collectively, all these aspects create the final image or series.
You describe yourself as a photographer, artist and creative director. Do you identify with one more than the other?
I think an artist, photographer and creative director are each an approach to express different forms of art, and I cannot choose which one I identify with more, because I think I execute the job for every one of those titles when I am shooting. That being said, I think I started off as an artist with a lot of creative thoughts just waiting be executed, and then gradually as I was introduced to photography, I obtained the skills of a photographer and then slowly started to have more control over how and what I wanted my subjects to do and hence becoming the creative director of my work.
Who are your personal influencers?
I don’t necessarily have any specific personal influencers. If anything, it’s artists like Sade, Florence and the Machine, Lady Gaga and multiple other creatives that really excel at expressing their form of art. I am also influenced by the unknown, and by that, I mean the magical, dream-like aspects of movies or TV shows like Practical Magic, Cinderella, The Sleeping Beauty, Charmed and much more that deliver this celestial message that only comes to life in mediums such a photography and videography. My emotions hugely resonate with the art that these entities create and as a result, my camera and I create our own kind of art.
What do you think of Kuwait’s current creative scene in terms of output of creative projects? Do you feel that it can improve?
I am so proud of Kuwait’s current creative scene, as I see a lot of individuals confidently expressing their creative energies. I also feel that society has embraced art more openly now because of the emergence of technologies that make the life of an artist easier in terms of presenting their work and having the opportunity to receive feedback as well as collaborate with other artists. I think it’s beautiful to see the artists in our society embrace themselves, release their inhibitions and create the beautiful art I see emerging in Kuwait.
What do you do when you’re not busy working on one of your creative projects?
I’m either on my way to the cinema to watch a movie I’ve been waiting to see for while or catching up with family and friends. One of my favorite things to do is watch movies with the people I love, even though most of the time it’s me forcing them to watch a horror movie that I’ve been too scared to watch alone. Living in New York has also given me so many opportunities to always have something new and interesting to do, and with the help of my absolutely crazy, amazing friends I always find myself doing some crazy activity when I am not outside shooting.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I never have a solid answer for this question, but I do know one thing for sure: Whatever I end up doing will definitely involve creativity and innovation. The ultimate goal is to be working for myself, but up until then, I’m so excited to be collaborating with other artists or companies to create content, it is absolutely sensational to combine the creative energy of individuals that share similar passions.