Mustafa Sabbagh talks to Yatzer

published in: Interviews, Photography By Guest, 09 March 2011

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photo © Mustafa Sabbagh

Guest Contribution by Predrag Pajdic

Imagine James Coburn cool in sunglasses, Steve McQueen slick behind a wheel and  Daniel Craig rising from the sea in yes, you know it, that scene as well as the smile of the boy next door and then, forget all of them.  Now let us introduce to you, the incredible, the international, the celebrated, Mustafa Sabbagh.  It would be hard to find a pedigree of apprenticeship and craftsmanship as prestigious as his in today’s quick fire age.  This is a man whose clean lines both about him and in his work where light arranges itself around the subject as if commanded though secret words gleaned under years of tutelage of old masters, demands your attention.

photo © Mustafa Sabbagh

Mustafa Sabbagh may have been born in Jordan, but to all intents and purposes is Italian and has been based in Italy since 1979, has a degree in Architecture and was Richard Avedon’s assistant in London for two years.  It’s an impressive list of collaborations which include the highly prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art and magazines such as Arena, The Face, Vogue Italia, L'UOMO Vogue, Rodeo, Gasby, Front, Kult, Sport & Street, to name just a few that make the fabric of his curriculum vitae.  Since 2004, he has taken part in different editorial and exhibition projects.  In 2009 he took part in Like-us, a travelling exhibition within Bologna Arte Fiera and is currently finishing the works for La Belle et La Bête exhibition taking place later this year in New York and London.

photo © Mustafa Sabbagh

But that’s just a snippet of his resumé.  What’s much more interesting about Mustafa, once you get over the chiselled looks, the deep voice and the impressive credentials is how he lives and breathes his work.  It’s the cerebral response he has to texture and form that connects inside and it’s surprising when he says he struggles to have specific certainties.  But it’s easy to fall and feel that enticement in light of this beauty and just like he says, “it’s becoming a form of slavery”.  Concentration wavers only in as much as it’s difficult to know whether it’s polite to catch his eyes or just to close yours and listen to his voice.  Try not to think of the word sexy.  It’s not just his pictures that make you want to be part of them; it’s not just the way the light bends for him in directions hitherto unknown, but it’s the intensity he conveys that carries his audience into each part of his passion.

self portrait >> photo © Mustafa Sabbagh

Still with the sense of the simple magic from that first polaroid, but leading responses beyond acceptable depths, Mustafa Sabbagh is a man on a mission to create beyond conventional design and structure.  It was therefore, an exquisite honour to be able to interview  him for Yatzer and without further ado, here is…

photo © Mustafa Sabbagh

What is your definition of beauty?
Beauty comes from accepting one’s own imperfections and flaws. The real beauty is one you don’t see with eyes but mind. If you see beauty only as an appearance it becomes a form of slavery. Real beauty should rape you, nothing less than that.

What inspires you?
I really love paintings from 1500, especially Nordic Renaissance. For me the best photographer of all times is certainly Caravaggio, who I see as the great photographer, rather then a painter. Antonioni’s films inspire me, architecture and fetish of course. Cyber sex is inspirational too, isn’t it?

photo © Mustafa Sabbagh

Photography is not simple as many might think, especially now in
 this digital age. It takes years of training and practice to become an 
expert. Where did you learn your craft?
I started when I was 11 years old when I discovered an old Polaroid camera in a drawer of my aunt’s place. Taking the first picture was as having the best orgasm imaginable. I have never stopped taking pictures since. Photography is not simple something you can just learn, it is a need deeply buried in you, something you have to do. Technique is important of course. One needs to learn it, but for me, photography is more about studying people, humankind with all their perversions… something I will be fascinated with forever.

photo © Mustafa Sabbagh

Recently your wonderful book “About Skin” came out. Why ‘about skin’?
Skin is a diary of our life. Skin is not only our habitat, it is an instrument of transmitting the data. I struggle to give a specific answer to this as I generally don’t have certainties about things.

You were the assistant of Richard Avedon, is that correct?
Yes it is. While modelling in Milan some time ago we met. He asked me what I really wish to become and I answer “a photographer”. On that he replied: “Why don’t you start working with me?” So I did for about two years. What I learned mostly from him is that a picture should be thought provoking rather than surprising, and that “light should embrace the subject and not violate it”.

photo © Mustafa Sabbagh

Shall we talk about fashion?
There are two ways to look at fashion. One way is to be enslaved by it and the other way is to consider it as an art form. Fashion should liberate rather then enslave. Just look at Coco Chanel, she liberated women… and Alexander McQueen, that’s pure art for me. I am a lover of beauty and fashion at it best is a pure beauty nothing less then that. Also I am trained as an architect so I look at fashion in a way of construction and form, which is important to me. A great dress is not different from a magnificent building…

Looking at your photographs, one thing is obvious, your unique way of styling. Knowing that you are also an architect I now understand where that comes from. Also it seems to me you are working all the time. Do you ever rest?
It depends how you look at it, what your understanding of work is. Creating is my life so even if I am in a studio sometimes 15 hours per day I don’t see it as work. Times I spend researching, while visiting museums, galleries or different cities is perhaps more ‘work’ than time spent in a studio.

photo © Mustafa Sabbagh

What does photography mean for you?
Photography is the only love I have been fateful to all my life. Otherwise I am quite unfaithful.

Do you easily fall in love?
Yes, once a day.

Are you available?

photo © Mustafa Sabbagh

photo © Mustafa Sabbagh


Mustafa Sabbagh

  • friend
    carlos de melo | 2011-03-09 10:53:16

    I love this work, very sensual !! :=)

  • friend
    Alexandra Eldridge | 2011-03-09 17:41:15

    great interview, Predrag!!!

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