Call it ‘electricness’ – an architectural know how, a sense of light, shadows, colours, black and white, graffiti, images. In Hakim Boulouiz’ Wax Dolls, an award winning series of photographs, a man glances down the camera lens, behind, we see a wall mural of a bare-breasted woman, while in the foreground a cardboard image (Frida Kahlo de Rivera) looks straight ahead. Complex, edgy, candid street photographs of the humans of everywhere and the cityscapes they populate. Snap!
“First, I would like to make people stop and think,” Boulouiz, who describes himself as a hybrid photographer, tells me with typical frankness. “I’m a photographer because I like to tell stories. What would life be like without stories? Stories are what expand and what make people who and what they are.”
He is right: stories are power, give shape to the world, present human and physical configurations.
“I consider every city,” He adds. “like a wonderful and mysterious ballet.”
His words hold, pirouette, conjure up movement, street music and the world moving rapidly, unpredictably toward the street photographer. Hakim likes to deal in concepts.
“The idea of visual recycling,” He continues thoughtfully. “Comes from the fact that I am making images from what I have in front of my eyes. I do not invent shapes out of nowhere, but I associate what already exists to create new form. The ability of association and recycling comes with practice and visual gymnastics. I also try to have enough time to study the pictures of my favourite photographers as well as painters, this will take you to new horizons and help you to discover new ways to create images.”
He is didactic, intellectual and offers an impressive list of favourite painters and photographers. Pieter Bruegel, Man Ray, Gustav Klimt, Diane Arbus, Rene Magritte, Roger Ballen, Giorgio Di Chirico, Constantine Manos, Wassily Kandinsky, Joel Meyerowitz, Chang Chao-Tang. Not satisfied with a string of names, he goes on to provide brief biographies of each, but is soon back on his favourite subject: street photography.
“The city is a phenomenon that even exceeds any capacity of description, representation and recording and, consequently, any photograph (framing) is necessarily a fragmentation,” He explains. “A street in a photograph does not end at the edge of the frame, it stretches before the viewer as a network of streets, buildings and life situations. It is continuous in the unconscious of the spectator. This activation of the urban imagination is the invaluable function of the visual arts. So you understand that fragmentation is part of the photographic act.”
These are big, dare I say, theoretical concepts within the street photography genre, but vision is the one thing you can’t accuse Boulouiz of not having.
“I love working with layers in order to build many reading levels,” He explains. “This gives depth to the image. God is in the details, as we always say. Attention to detail improves accuracy in performing street shots. Details are also for composition of course. You have to take your time to do it correctly. A picture is given more value once it tells an intriguing and unique story simply because you were able to compose it well.”
The Moroccan born Swiss national works with digital, but still uses film to make his photographs, and advocates patience. He groups his work into intriguing series of images, which gives his street photography art an effortless crossover documentary feel.
A lady has descended a set of steps. We don’t get the full image, just a dramatic splash of yellow as she vanishes into the ‘no-thingness’ at the edge of the photograph. In that moment the woman holds a balletic pose as she balances at the bottom of the steps and moves off to her left. We notice, intriguing shadows to our left as we view, while another woman stands poised at the top of the stairs looking to her right. The photograph has energy and layers, and we find ourselves with a narrative. Is the woman in yellow hurriedly escaping the shadow? Is her friend at the top trying to summon the courage to descend the steps two at a time, until she too leaps out of frame?
“You are talking about ‘Melina’,” He acknowledges. “The photo was made in Sofia. I stopped in front of the stairs…an interesting piece of architecture. The light was good -I often like when the sun is behind me because I can play…with the shadow. I decided to stay some time to observe and assimilate the place. Nothing happened for a long time. Suddenly 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, for an unknown reason, the girl accelerated and jumped the last three or four 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. I looked immediately at the screen. The girl disappeared very quickly. I was speechless….”
Hakim Boulouiz has depth and his work street photography has depth, but he doesn’t like to catalogue or label, and is reluctant to recognise borders. Labelling, he considers, is a recipe for undermining the artist.
“I don’t believe…the traditional classifications in photography such as wildlife photography, product, beauty….,” He begins. “For me there are only two categories: studio and street. Photography is not about classifications, but about a way of working. It’s about a state of mind. The studio means a lot of control and posing. The street means candid shots, less equipment for more result and improvisation for sure. This nature of the street puts creativity and freedom higher.”
His words resonate, strike a significantly loud chord but they are worthy of more discussion and, of course, open to debate. His ability as a street photographer, however, is beyond question. Call it ‘Electricness’?
Follow Hakim on Instagram @hakim.boulouiz