Capsule Arts ARTIST FEATURE: Yousef Al Habshi
For the Holy month of Ramadan, Capsule Arts has decided to embrace the spirit of the season by shedding a light on the artist community through featuring one UAE based artist a week on the blog.
For the final artist in the series, Art Curator Nadine Khoury spoke to Yousef Al Habshi, an Emirati photographer.
Capsule Arts has taken on various projects over the years. One project that stands out is the Environment Agency in Abu Dhabi that went through a refurbishment in 2019. It was very captivating as Capsule Arts commissioned multiple local and UAE-based artists to create work that reflected the vision and the mission of the agency. As I was going through the artist list I came across Yousef Al Habshi’s macro photography. His photographs stood out, as the subject matter of insects is not one that you see often. This intrigued me and I set up a meeting to delve into his photographic journey further.
How did you get started in the arts?
“I came across an image on the internet that intrigued me, and I questioned why I can’t take this picture myself. This hobby that I embarked on was simply triggered by the picture and was not something I previously planned on getting involved in. It simply interested me and over time curiosity took over as I delved deeper into the field of photography.
My first source into researching photography was picking up a book called ‘photography for dummies’, and despite the name, it was actually quite detailed and helped me to build a technical background in this field.”
How did you delve into Macro photography?
“There is two routes a photographer can take upon starting their career: They either get inspired by a subject matter they have seen other artists take on, or they go around and photograph their surroundings without a direct intention. I was definitely the later, as my whole journey started out of the blue. I was photographing everything including landscapes and testing out the wide angle on my camera. However, the one thing that I couldn’t really master, but highly intrigued me was macro photography, as you would need to purchase special lenses that allows you to capture the subject from certain angles using specified magnification. Therefore, after a month of testing out my camera, I purchased my first Macro lens and as soon as I started working with it, I felt an immediate attraction and connection in comparison to other modes of photography. This is how I started my journey into macro photography.”
Can you tell me more about how you found your niche of photographing insects within the Macro field?
“If you take a step back and look at the definition of ‘Macro photography’, it is a branch of photography that focuses on small subject matter not visible to the naked eye, consequently, my subject matter would have to be small objects. If you think about it, we are surrounded by small objects, whether it is pins or pencils as well as small beings such as insects or greenery.
I remember the day I bought the Macro lens, in January of 2010, I was going out to the desert and in that excursion I was trying to find subjects to photograph to be able to practice with my new lens. I came across a type of desert beetle that I was able to photograph. In fact, to this day, 10 years later, I make sure to show that photography when I give lectures, as it represents the beginning of my journey, and is a visual representation of how far I have come. It is important to remind people that consistency in your field is what will get your far and help you develop.
I started realizing the details of the insects that we don’t see. Photographs of fish or other animals are the norm, however people shy away from showing insects. It was definitely a subject matter that was classified as provocative. I was being questioned as to why I chose this subject matter. My response was always a thought provoking question: why do we give priority to photographing some animals instead of insects? At the end of the day, beauty can be found in everything. The definition of beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. What I may find beautiful, others may not.
Can you elaborate on the idea of beauty behind your artwork, as I believe there are many layers behind this statement.
“The beauty of the Macro photography of insects not only produces visually and aesthetically appealing products. There is a layer of scientific discovery that is just as beautiful and develops over time. I was starting to collate a wide array of knowledge and facts on the plethora of species that existed such as ants, butterflies and bees. As time progressed, I was able to distinguish the different types within each species and collate useful statistics. Through this added scientific layer of my photographic practice, I was not only to teach myself I was also able to teach others around me as they became more intrigued and conscious of these creatures.
The more the people around me became intrigued, the growing of environmental consciousness increased. With that came the perception of how to respect and co-exist with the creatures around us. We are all apart of the world’s ecosystem. The existence of these insects is extremely important for the circle of life. If you think about removing one insect from this system the repercussions are endless. For instance if you eliminate bees, we cancel out pollination, which then escalates to the loss of all types of fruits and greenery, that ultimately abolishes birds and insects that thrive off this greenery.”
With that description lies a very important message of being environmentally conscious of all the beings that surround us. We must co-exist in an ecosystem that has been circling for years. Yousef’s photography should be praised as beyond the visual appeal, come beauty in the form of knowledge.
Throughout the past 10 years you have been focusing on Macro photography with the subject matter of insects. Last time we spoke you said that you have been exploring something new. Can you speak more about that?
“I am still working with Macro photography, however I have delved deeper into the subject and started photographing using microscopic lenses. Although I am still photographing insects, the photographs have become more abstract and less literal.”
Yousef has been working on this new series for a year. He explained to me that these photographs aren’t just taken in one click. Each photograph can take up to a week to finalize, as there is a technical process of layering hundreds of photographs together.
Have you ever thought of exploring any other medium in the arts, or even film photography?
“The simple answer is No. However, I must say that diversity is something very important and I encourage artists to do so.”
Have you been able to exhibit your works?
“I have been able to exhibit solo shows across the UAE. My latest exhibition in the UAE was at Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi. I also had an exhibition recently in New York that show both the older Macro photography, and some of my recent series of abstract photography using the microscopic lens that I previously spoke about.”
As an Emirati, how have you seen the art scene grow over the years?
“It’s hard for one person to give a glimpse into a great field such as Art, let alone in the greater context of a prominent country. However, my personal opinion on the subject is that there is no doubt of the evident growth. The importance placed in the field of Art has intensified. Awareness has spread in the sense of the accessibility and feasibility of materials that has been able to open the field onto creatives of all paths in life.
It’s also important to speak not only about the quantity of artists that is evident, but also about the quality of works being produced. We are anxiously awaiting to see the growth of the art scene both in terms of quantity and quality from the upcoming and emerging artist generation. This is where the strength and growth of the art scene lies.
After a really nice, in depth conversation and getting to know more about Yousef Al Habshi, I decided to end the interview with some light hearted rapid fire questions:
Who is one contemporary artist you look up to?
”I don’t believe there is one artist to look up to. I believe that everyone is an artist whether they know it or not. I think inspiration can come in many forms and not necessarily from one person”
Which artist alive or dead would you like to meet?
“Spanish Macro photographer Xavier Torrent”
What does Ramadan in the UAE mean to you in one word?
With that descriptive word, I ended the final interview of the Ramadan artist feature series.
We would like to thank Yousef Al Habshi for taking time out of his day to speak to us.