Bilo Hussein is a photographer from Sudanese origin who graduated from NY’s School of Visual Arts. Bilo rose to fame with her very impressive photo series ‘Never Home’. In this nostalgic series, Bilo has successfully attempted to portray the theme of segregation and alienation. Bilo’s personal experiences pertaining to class, creed, and culture in various places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, England, and USA compelled her to find a place of her own and express herself through her subjects. Her characters while resting at the windowsill are seen lost deep thoughts and their feelings and memories spring up through multi-layered processing craft.
‘Never Home’ is an insightful reflection into our own existence and evolution that makes us tumultuously go through the different phases of our life and share our joy and pain with others. Bilo says, “Through this project I’ve come to understand that home is not the place where you are born and it is definitely not a physical space or a passport to a certain country. I believe home is where your loved ones are and it’s where you can fit regardless of boarders.”
Apart from her personal projects, Bilo has shot very beautiful photo collages and portraits that follow ‘Never Home’. Here’s our interview with this very talented visual artist:
I was born in Khartoum, to Sudanese parents. Spent most of my childhood in Saudi Arabia, then moved to Cairo for my undergrad. I also lived in London for two years and now I am based in New York City.
I did my undergrad in mass communications and worked in advertising for five years. I moved to London to get a Masters degree in Marketing Communications from University of Westminster. Then I moved to New York to get another Masters in Digital Photography from School of Visual Arts.
I have always been interested in art, but have never took it seriously or outside my bedroom. I never had a hobby. I was always aware of that, and that was something that upset me. I was never able to be passionate about something enough to keep doing it for leisure. I used to spend my free time watching documentaries on Discovery Civilization. I think that was an extension to that my father advice to read the National Geographic every day. This was something that fed my curiosity of how people lived differently in the outside world. It acted as a window to me, as I grew up in Saudi Arabia in the early 80s and 90s with no internet or cable TV. I was influenced by the photography I saw in this magazine… specially portraits of people dressed in their native costumes in far away countries that I never heard of.
I stared taking pictures when I moved to London in 2012. I bought my first DSLR to record my time there, and that didn’t start off so well. I didn’t know how to use it and it frustrated me. Every photograph I took looked completely different than what I saw. I realized then that there is gap and I that I needed to do something about it. I started to use my camera as a reason to get out of the house and go to new places. I needed new subject matter. I was studying at London School of Photography. And so after every class I would search for places and just shoot. In six months, I came to the conclusion that I no longer wanted to be in marketing. And that photography was the next thing I would take seriously and develop myself in, and so I applied to the school of visual arts in NYC and moved there. My biggest achievement was to graduate from School of Visual Arts. It was a very challenging and intense program. I am very proud I have been able to do well and connect with so many talented artists.
I am an introvert. I like to spend most of my time alone. Photography is an escape world. It’s a place I go to when I am upset or when I don’t understand… or when I have emotional excess, both negative and positive. I use my camera to break the fear of being in new places. I get carried away taking pictures. I finish shooting and I spend hours editing my work. I publish and share it with the world. I think this is better than talking or seeking answers from other humans who might be as lost as you are. I am not sure I know how to explain myself. But it helps me deny a certain reality. Ask certain questions. Release certain emotions. Attempt to change certain ugliness or heal certain pain.
I have shot everything there is to shoot. I have tried everything. Travel, landscapes, architecture, still life, fashion, fine art, portraits, etc. The most I have enjoyed are portraits because it allows me to go to someone else’s world and stare. My camera is a license. I can ask questions, judge, profile, understand, connect and have compassion. I can only make portraits that way.
I own a Canon 6D and alternate between two prime lenses. I have tried different equipment but this is just what I found myself comfortable with. I will keep using it until I can afford to explore. I have used Hasselblad, Pentax and other brands, but I stuck to Canon. It’s just a personal preference. I honestly think the best camera you have is the one that is available. Equipment are just tools that help you produce what you see. I use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop as part of my workflow and digital asset management. My work is heavily manipulated, and my preference changes according to the state of mind I am in. I love digital collage.
‘Never Home’ is my first fine art personal project I started last February. It’s an on-going project driven by the sense of segregation in religion, culture and gender that I experienced as a child in Saudi Arabia. I also express my continuing wish to find a place where I can fit in regardless of belief. Yet, as a third culture individual I often wonder if home is the place where you physically spend the most of your life? Is it a place you feel you belong to? Or is simply a country that you are a citizen of?
The judgmental way of life in which I was forced to participate as a child was the catalyst that led me to pick up a camera and use it to connect with people I had previously not been allowed to accept. Rather than trying to understand the meaning of home through my own feelings and thoughts, I chose to create portraits of women such as myself, who had recently moved to New York City from a different background than my own.
The layers of additional images and textures I incorporate into these images in post processing are meant to evoke the very thoughts and feelings of my subjects. These layers consist of places and patterns I have fallen in love with since my own move to New York City. These internal images are meant represent the process of coming to accept a new culture as one’s own, which I myself am slowly doing. But they are also saying that inside each displaced person is an abundance of emotion, thought and experience that in many cultures women are not allowed to share.
I make sure I am always studying and keeping myself updated and inspired. I am always attending talks by other artists, exhibitions and shows. If there is nothing to do, which is hardly the case in NYC, I just go sit in the park. This works for me. My everyday challenge is to find meaning. I have to work in commercial photography to be able to make a living out of photography. But this clashes with the reason why I left marketing. I don’t want to be part of the world that promotes consumer culture; I don’t want my portraits to objectify women. But they do. I struggle to stay focused on something that has meaning to me. That other people can relate to. Something that answers my own personal questions about human condition.
Smart phones and social media have changed photography forever. It has empowered so many people around the world to take pictures and share it on a common platform. I believe that more people are appreciating photography now as an art rather than a tool for documentation. This has started a dialogue between artists based in different parts of the world who only use powerful imagery to communicate. This is the most powerful thing that has happened in centuries. It has bridged the gap between cultures that are worlds apart. People are now talking to each other directly with no gatekeepers. A single person has the power to raise awareness and create perception about a certain issue and communicate it to millions of people around the world, only armed with a smart phone. I think the debate about double media standards and false perceptions has no place in the future. This is the power of contemporary photography. It’s not aesthetic only. It’s what you are saying with your photography.
I am Egyptian. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to shoot there. I have been living abroad ever since I took up photography. However, I do recommend that you follow @karimelhayawan he has been doing a fantastic job surveying the undiscovered parts of Cairo that has been neglected and unappreciated. I follow his work and feel both homesick and motivated to join him to bring out a beautiful part of the city that is so visually and culturally rich.
My future plan is to be able to keep myself inspired and motivated to work in photography. I only hope I can bring some change to the visual pollution that Egypt is going through. It’s a beautiful country that needs a little more appreciation. I have so many favourite photographers. However, my inspiration comes mainly from art. I love Gustav Klimt. I go to Neue Gallery and the Met and spend hours with his painting. There’s something about them that makes me want to produce work.
To sum up, say something to our readers: