When talking about the photography of Nabil Boutros there is a distinctive turning point to be noted, exactly ten years ago. Before 2005, the Egyptian photographer was trying to show good sides of a difficult present by being close to people, to their faith, to everyday life and by trying to introduce some beauty or dreams. “But since, I am making and using pictures (even my own archives) to bring conscious awareness of what is happening socially with a distance that I can call poetic, or maybe philosophic. Hopefeully at least,” Boutros explains. “It’s clear to me that I cannot make the same pictures as before; my point of view has changed. Before, I was aware to show empathy with people, situations, beauty. But now I am more looking to find formal approaches of some ideas or ironic comments.”
Boutros’ most recent works are not only conceptual, but form and shape are also very important and make up an essential part of them. They have to pull sensations in the same direction. Conceiving a new project means, for him, conceiving the appropriate form. “I have my commitments with my projects, but no formal style, brand or trademark, which are mainly concerned by trade, buying and selling. My main concern is about Egypt and the Middle East, trying to raise problematics on a human level.”
Dark and hazy
Having studied decorative arts in Cairo and painting in Paris, Boutros has a broad background. “At the time I was studying I was feeling very close to classic painting and drawing. I started making conceptual paintings with classical techniques with the help of photographs I was taking, but was not really satisfied. So I started making photos, trying to catch emotions, instants that were giving me immediate feeling of truth.” He was getting pleasure out of working in the lab and the craft side of black and white photography. The photographer he is today has more to do with his first conceptual work as a painter than his first experiences of photography thirty years ago. “Since my beginnings, I didn’t like to show and describe everything. Dark and hazy pictures leave enough space for the viewer to project himself, to dream in the picture. That’s why I never became a reporter in a journalistic definition. Newspaper and magazine photographs are showing easily understandable situations to illustrate subjects, which doesn’t interest me as photographer.”
Boutros went the opposite direction, trying to place pictures beside each other to transcend resistance to a quick and consummative reading of the images. “Photographic techniques have changed and the relationship with images too. Meanwhile, continuing to resist consuming images, I slowly slipped to my recent conceptual works.”
Because Boutros is focusing on his own subjects, whatever the success or non-success that it gets from audience, he is determined in his task: giving shape to thoughts and feelings and putting them on a public ground, like little bricks. Trying to give an intimate image of Egypt, from inside, on different subjects for both the Egyptian and the foreign audience. Previously he didn’t encounter any particular difficulties shooting pictures, but for the last year and a half, he has found it difficult to even carry a camera. “There is a real witch hunt for any kind of recording, not only from authorities but also people who are sincerely convinced that any photographer or cameraman is working with a foreign agenda to demolish the Egyptian state.”
The Egyptian photography scene still is very rich, according to Boutros, and has been enhanced by two combined phenomenons: a digital revolution and the street revolution. A new generation learned very quickly what reporting is, and about making good images. That was missing in Egypt, due to police surveillance, for years.