In Conversation With: Ilyes Griyeb

Ilyes Griyeb (b.1989) is a self-taught photographer living between Paris and Meknès. Using photography as both an art form and documentary device, his work straddles the worlds of documentary, fashion photography, and the fine arts. His poignant and intimate work is not only about creating beautiful images; but also about spotlighting cultures and voices that have often been exploited by the white gaze. He is also a co-founder of the collective NAAR. Griyeb’s work has been featured in publications including i-D, Anothermag, M Le Magazine du Monde, Vanity Fair, Numéro, and Konbini.

French-Moroccan photographer Ilyes Griyeb is pleased to announce the launch of his first photography book Morocco, available on October 29. Shot over the span of six years, the photographs—which occupy a space between spontaneous documentation, staged portraits and serene landscapes—offer an alternative look into the everyday life of his country of origin.

It was in 2013 that 31-year-old Griyeb started capturing Meknès; his family’s rural hometown. What began as creative experimentation quickly turned into a poignant and emotional record of his Moroccan family and the reality that defines them. The resulting series is a moving portrait of rural life in a changing Morocco; far from the fetishized and orientalist cliché, the country is often associated with.

The intersubjective experience of Griyeb’s dual identity allows him to get particularly close to his personal milieu, all while somehow keeping a distance. His photographic essay exploring the daily routines of the city’s agricultural workers and of his unemployed cousin Khalid powerfully reflects this ambivalence. Part of the first generation of Moroccan immigrants able to access the art world and get international exposure, Griyeb knows that coverage of Morocco has been lacking in context. With an uncompromisingly sincere gaze and unpretentious aesthetic, he captures a reality existing outside of the global spotlight. In doing so, he attempts to take control of how his identity is shaped and perceived by others.

Emerald Arguelles: How did you get your start in photography?

Ilyes Griyeb: I started photography quite innocently during a period when my trips to Meknes started to be more frequent. At that time, a kind of reflex set in, and I began to capture the daily life of my cousin Khalid, the friends that I had known since my childhood. And it’s only a few years after that I started considering photography more seriously

EA: Can you talk a bit about your choice of medium format?

IG: It’s been a very natural choice I’d say. All the photographers I admired the most were using medium format or 4×5’ so I jumped into it without much thinking. 4×5 was too heavy and too visible for my practice, 6×7 is a perfect balance.

EA: What are your inspirations?

IG: I perceive my inspirations as a heterogeneous mix. They range from figures of photographers such as Harry Guyeart, Alec Loth and Dana Lixenberg. But are also from friends of mine, artists that I know and work with.

EA: What led to you documenting life in Morocco?

IG: Initially, from the days I was spending with my cousin Khalid and childhood friends and in a second time with members of my family. My trips were more frequent at that time and I had the need to capture my daily life and the people who were part of the youth that I was spending time with. I was sensitive to the authenticity and the fatality that was putting pressure on their life perceptions and aims.

EA: What was the motivation in documenting this project for six years?

IG: Anything related to the authenticity that is extracted from Morocco with an intern point of view that I feel was important to be shared. This Morocco is inhabited by its youth dreaming of an idealized Western, of the abnegation of the rural workers, the poetry of my family members, and the people I meet. Through time, an aesthetic was going out of all the pictures, and by exploring it, I was recognizing my own story, the importance of this double culture, and the eye it could bring on the representation of Morocco in western countries. Gradually, the different subjects made sense together and I projected them in a book.

EA: What would you say is your favorite image?

IG: I would go for the picture of Faris, the young guy on a velvet background looking down. His emotion in this image crystallizes the emotion I wanted to come out of this book.

EA: What did you learn in the process of documenting the rural life of Morocco?

IG: My father being a farmer. I grew up surrounded by fields and their workers. They were characters of my daily life but still, they embodied this difference that can be found between our two generations. The agricultural workers are in a totally antinomic perspective of ours. They keep the same work for their entire life, are totally devoted to it and their life structure is totally derived from it, from the importance of the religion and of the essential. Their relationship to work has taught me the devotion and the economic and cultural reality that punctuates them on a daily basis, which this relationship mirrors ours as well.

EA: What advice would you give to artists?

IG: I would tell the younger ones to produce a lot and not to be afraid of exploring and experimenting, to train until they are pleased and sharpen their technique so that their words and stories are the most legible possible.

EA: What would you like the reader/viewer to take away from your work?

IG: I wish they would feel the sincerity of the approach and the photos, they feel close to the stories of the inhabitants of Morocco. That they pose a sensitive look and feel the tension that resides in all the themes addressed. 

To view more of Griyeb’s work please visit her website.