The Order in the Disorder : Street Photography of Hakim Boulouiz

Have a glance at the photostream of Hakim Boulouiz and you notice the elements of street photography that make an image exceptional: the drama, action (a frozen one), character(s) and a dash of color complementing the shadows. Street photography in itself a difficult genre owing to natural fears, challenges, and lack of vision. Having his basics in architecture and film making, Hakim found photography to be an outlet to express his love for cities with all their drama and chaos. A multidisciplinary artist as he is, in photography too Hakim is an avid shooter and he takes pleasure in photographing a variety of subjects. Hakim has a way with words (as evident from his very detailed replies), photography is indeed a subject very close to his heart. He’s one of the few photo artists who give a lot of attention to naming his projects and images. Here’s our Q&A with is very talented ‘Hybrid Photographer’:

Please tell us about yourself:

My name is Hakim Boulouiz. I’m from Switzerand. I’m married and have a baby boy. Currently, I live and work in Geneva.

I love movies, cherries, homemade bread, green tea, seas, checkers, and I enjoy reading — some fiction, some non-fiction, and some news. I’m a Hybrid Photographer and Expert in Urban aesthetics. I’m also a member of Golf Photo Plus in Dubai and my greatest dream is to become invisible.

1-Boulouiz_Hakim_FinestraHow did you get into the world of photography?

After my diploma in Architecture, a diploma in Filmmaking, and a Masters in Territory Planning, I completed a PhD at the University of Geneva analyzing the interaction between urban modernity and the art of short film.

For many years, photography has been a part of my life both directly and indirectly. In architecture, I had to photograph my architectural models to showcase my idea and project.

In urban planning, I had to photograph and read many urban spaces for analysis and relevant studies.

In the film industry, framing composition and lighting are the foundation for successful images and can be learned in photography… So, gradually I began to realize the potential of photographic art. Now I’m completely focused on photography. I love this art. It constantly fascinates me, but I still try to feed my work through other forms of expression.

3-Boulouiz_Hakim_Kepler StreetDo you have an artist statement? Do photographers need one?

Yes I do! For photographers, it’s a little bit risky to not have a statement. Your work can be unclear. It may lose the sharp line of the artistic scheme. However, an artist statement should not be complete or definitive because Art must stay vibrant and dynamic. It’s in motion and perpetually changing. On the other hand, Art is influenced by the maturity of the artist – by his research, his experiments, and by his….? This last point is the most difficult thing to define. For your photographic work, it’s very important to be yourself. Everyone is taking pictures these days, whereas I prefer making pictures. I’ve found that trying to be anything besides you doesn’t usually get you very far as an artist.

Why do you take pictures? Why this urge?

I’m a photographer because I like to tell stories. I believe that photography is a fantastic story-telling medium. Because I’m interested in cities, I’m convinced that pictures are a message that can highlight urban drama. Did you know that the city is dancing? Did you know that the city is a wonderful ballet? I like to point out, underline clues and paths related to the human being and his space in a contemporary context. Experience different emotions from the same place… I’m a photographer because I would like to communicate across languages and cultures. Photography is like music. There are no language barriers. You can communicate with people around the world with an image. And you can connect, too!

4-Boulouiz_Hakim_What About UsI’m a photographer because I would like to make people stop and think. Powerful images can change the way you view the world for the rest of your life. They motivate the observer to ask questions and take actions that lead to changes. For me this is the artist’s greatest goal. It’s his kind of utopia that motivates every moment.

You’ve been shooting all sorts of images (animals, beauty, street etc.) Which one of them do you like taking most?

Yes it’s true ! I’ve been shooting lots of animals, beauty, macro… there are several reasons for this diversity.

The first is that as a professional, you meet the demands of a diverse clientele (from the corporate community to health care) via catalog publishers. Second, each art specialization is a long process. As in medicine, each specialist is primarily a generalist. However, some prefer to remain generalists. The choice depends on you. It depends on your mindset and your worldview. Your question is interesting because it raises a very important point for me about specialization in photography. Let me explain — I don’t trust the traditional classifications of wildlife photography, beauty, product, etc. I prefer to believe only in two categories (you have just to choose between two “Ss”): Studio and Street. So photography is not about classifications, but about the two Ss, which depend on your state of mind and the way you work. Some photographers have brains for studio and others for the street.

5-Boulouiz_Hakim_Scottish RainWhat’s the difference between the two? The studio means a lot of control, the subjects are posing, the setup of the shooting is sophisticated…The street means candid shots, some improvisation is welcome, and in terms of equipment: less is more. In other words, if the studio is classical music, the street is jazz. Let’s take the example of the portrait (the most classic form in photography). According to our logic, a studio portrait is not necessarily a portrait taken in a studio, but rather a portrait in the spirit of the studio (posing, lighting, retouching). Also a street is not necessarily in the street. It is a portrait taken in the spirit of the Street (spontaneous, lively and documentary nature). So when you’re on the street and you ask people to pose for you, you have to admit that you’re still doing a form of studio photography, you just happen to be outside. Same goes for a fashion studio, when it comes to taking a candid picture of a model on her phone between two shootings, the photo takes on the spirit of a street shot.

Why do you call yourself a “hybrid photographer”?

I love to call myself a Hybrid photographer for two reasons: First, it’s because of my background in moving images. So sometimes I shoot video and photo at the same time. Second because I’m switching all the time between my personal and commercial work, sometimes it’s studio, sometimes it’s street. This makes me a hybrid. Although deep down, I feel honestly more street than studio. I worked for five years on French New Wave cinema, which is very street. It has certainly influenced me unconsciously.

6-Boulouiz_Hakim_SwimindThe third explanation comes from the car industry. When you talk about a hybrid vehicle you are also talking about a mixed engine (which combines two systems). In my concept, a hybrid photographer is a mixed artist who composes lots of images, while still avoiding visual pollution. The hybrid photographer naturally wants to share all of his images, but at the same time, he is convinced that not all of his work should be published. So he takes his next step as a yogi, resisting the media junk food and overdose of images, which is so rampant today on social networks.

What are your methods or critical approaches of shooting outside?

Most of the time I work digitally but I reason analog at the same time. This means that I try to shoot less and think more. I also prefer not to “chimp” because when you shoot film, you can’t see your images right away and that’s a good thing. Some people might panic at the uncertainty of not knowing if they got the shot. But an analog mind forces you to trust in your abilities as a photographer and concentrate on shooting. Forget about the image you just took, all that matters is the next shot. You keep your eyes on the street to see it coming.

7-Boulouiz_Hakim_ProcessionYour street photostream is quite unique with a layered structure where images have a lot of information and activity. These can be viewed from various angles and perspectives. Tell us what interests you most on streets. Do you work on a planned or spontaneous way?

I love working with layers in order to build many reading levels. This gives depth to the image. Did you know that the best lessons of photography are actually from painters? You can find the best layers in the work of the Flemish artist Pieter Brueghel, noted for his landscapes and satirical paintings of peasant life, and his allegorical biblical scenes. For me, each frame is a juice of several layers, a range of elements, preplans and backgrounds, full and void, light and shadow. But the most important for me in this technical and artistic patchwork remains the human being! In addition to its location, past and future, each city has a variety of cultural, economic and social strata that determine its identity and appearance. Each city is therefore a place of disorder and irrationality. The disorder can be on an architectural level as observed in Asian cities, or it can also be on an emotional and internalized level as experienced in some Eastern European cities.

So my photography would likely be my own perception of order in urban space by choosing the composition, shapes, lines, colours… “the order in the disorder”.

8-Boulouiz_Hakim_FridoWhy do you call your street (outdoor) images “Wax Dolls”? I noticed that you’ve given amusing titles to all your series/projects/images.

Well noticed! Thank you. Yes, I spend time thinking up original names for my work, whether for the project name or for the photos themselves. Sometimes finding an original name could change your perception of the photo and that’s really great!

‘Wax Dolls’ is my main street photography series and one of my long term projects. I’m travelling everywhere for that. The synopsis of the project is that cities are growing day by day. Life is being transformed and accelerated in the middle of modernity. In this context, the urban body is vibrating and experimenting with new adventures. It sneaks between advertising, windows, showcases, colors, prints, shadows and lights. The urban body is reflected and conditioned through architecture. It becomes an object that looks like a wax doll. With my concept, I would like to freeze this fake figure of the human being by the photographic act. My vision doesn’t show smooth postcard pictures, because for me the image of a contemporary city has become a puzzle.

9-Boulouiz_Hakim_PalmTell us about the equipment (cameras and lenses) you mostly use. What is your workflow like and what are your views on editing and digital manipulation?

As a street photographer, I put a lot of effort into the shooting. My big challenge in the street is to get close and to immerse myself in the subject. I work only with fixed 28mm, 35mm and 50mm lenses. Sometimes with two camera bodies, like a war photographer in peaceful places, and also for the sake of speed. I work with the Olympus OMD series because of its quality and size. You can carry it with you everywhere, so you are always ready to catch the moment. I don’t overwork on my images. I only give a little boost for the street work in order to give it the best atmosphere, but that’s it. But I don’t use post-production techniques to correct things that could simply be avoided by more discipline during the shooting. I spend a lot of time choosing and selecting images (I love Photo Mechanic software for that). This is a step that requires a strong determination, because a good picture has to talk without your words. Sometimes I’ve travelled very far and in the end I’m really satisfied with any picture. This is the risk of the street. Street photography is not a souvenir photo trip. As an artist you have to accept that.

10-Boulouiz_Hakim_FiestasDo you have a favorite photo or a project having a great story behind?

One of my favorite photos and one that other people enjoy too (sometimes there can be a mismatch between what the public likes and what the photographer likes) is “Melina” (the featured image / the first image). I love this picture and how it was made. I was in Sofia, Bulgaria, doing the street. One time I stopped in front of the stairs of an interesting piece of architecture. I decided to stop in the middle and wait for something to happen. For a long time nothing did. What also motivated me to stay was the quality of light. I often like when the sun is behind me. Then a girl wearing a yellow shirt walked up looking around to left and right… an action that is quite commonplace in the street, however to me it was like a miracle! As she descended the stairs, the girl suddenly accelerated and jumped the last 3 or 4 steps. At this moment, I had the stroke of luck to move a little closer to her and stand still in order to better compose my frame. Usually, I don’t check every photo on the camera display after capture (I don’t chimp). But this time, I looked immediately at the screen. The girl disappeared very quickly. I was speechless facing the stairs just like I started (the loop is completed).

I changed the memory card to hide it in my deepest pocket and I continued on my way to other streets of Sofia with a smile on my face.

11-Boulouiz_Hakim_Turn OnWhat do you think about contemporary photography?

Technology changes all the time but art remains the same. There was the famous debate during the switch-over from analog to digital. There was no concern for photographers who had a consciousness of their art because they knew that the cameras did not matter much. Alfred Eisenstaedt said, “The important thing is not the camera but the eye.” We also knew from Hegel, the German philosopher, that art falls for consciousness and not just technical skill. The technical ability is a prerequisite, but it says nothing of the art, it is only a means to shape the object. What characterizes the artwork as it is other than a technical object, limited by its hardware feature. The technical object is entirely determined by what is outside it. Thus, the artwork is an expression of consciousness, meaning quality is always better than quantity. That is the number one rule you should be following. It’s great to show your work on your various social media networks but please don’t ruin your social reputation by over-sharing. Be strong enough to share only your best work.

12-Boulouiz_Hakim_The Last EmperorTell us about your achievements, awards, clients, publications, etc.

I’ve won several international photography awards and step by step, I’ve become active in street photography around the world. Recently I was awarded first prize in Street Photography (Professional section) for my series ‘Wax Dolls’ at the Fine Art Photography Awards. I also have a book in preparation with other street photographs. The concept behind the book is photographing downtown Los Angeles in different ways, through different eyes. Each photographer has explored his own sensibilities to a part of the city in order to achieve a common story. The work was directed by the famous artist John Free, one of my favorite photography coaches.

What are your future plans/projects, ambitions, inspirations etc.?

In the coming months, I’m working on a collective exhibition with two artists (a sculptor and a makeup artist). This is a common project that combines sculpture, makeup art and photography for a specific urban approach. I also have to schedule upcoming trips to shoot new streets. On top of that, one of my big ambitions at the moment is a book. There comes a point in a photographer’s life when publishing a book seems like a logical step. But publishing a book of photography is not like merely making a photo album and then sending it out into the world. The narrative needs to be tighter – there needs to be a story. You also need to make sure that the body of work is well edited. If your project contains two hundred images, you should aim to publish around fifty or sixty, not the entire two hundred. This is also a common mistake.

13-Boulouiz_Hakim_CatchPlease share your favorite stuff: photographers, quotes, films, books, music etc.

Favorite movies: The Boat That Rocked directed by Richard Curtis, Alphaville directed by Jean Luc Godard, Pina directed by Wim Wenders, The Pier directed by Chris Marker

Favorite music: I listen to a bit of everything following the mood of the day. But I have a soft spot for pure jazz, which is very close to the street.

Favorite books: The Città Invisibili, a novel by Italo Calvino; Das Perfume, a novel by Patrick Süskind; Alexis Zorba, a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis; 1984, a novel by George Orwell

Favorite photographers: Robert Frank, Bill Brandt, John Free, Eugene Smith, Joel Meyerowitz, Philip-Lorca DiCorcia, Martin Parr, Alex Webb

14-Boulouiz_Hakim_HeadI’m sure that our readers have taken notes of your quite detailed insights and sensibilities into the art of photography. Would you further like to say something (like a tip) to aspiring photographers?

First, no need for expensive gear. What will really make the difference in the quality of your photos at the beginning is your knowledge of how to setup. Study the pictures of your favorite photographers. This will take you to new horizons and help you discover new ways to create images. You will have hyper creative moments, and then others where you are going to say: “I make really bad stuff!” That’s normal. Other important thing: Shoot, Shoot, Shoot! In our busy daily lives, it is often difficult to find time to just make photos. The solution: take your camera almost everywhere. To progress, you absolutely have to shoot. You cannot become a high level in sport without training. Any occasion is good: picnics with your children, portraits during parties with friends, even your first cup cake.  Shooting a lot helps you to keep the motivation to always create.

Hakim_Boulouiz-StreetAll photos © Hakim Boulouiz : Web Site | Instragram | Twitter | Facebook

About Nishant Mishra

Nishant studied art history and literature at the university during 1990s. He works as a translator in New Delhi, India and likes to read about arts, photography, films, life-lessons and Zen.

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