To Egyptian photographer Youssef Nabil (born 1972), kitsch isn’t just cool, it’s a means of immortalizing the beauty of celebrities – a sugary balm that stops the aging process and turns the ‘ordinary’ into the ‘iconographic’. On display at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP) is a fascinating selection of sixty black and white photos, coloured by the photographer’s own hand, and then carefully worked to create the impression that they have been aged by time.
This obsession with film stars started when Nabil was a small boy. Growing up in the Cairo of the 70s, he was raised on ‘Golden Age’ Egyptian cinema (1940s and 50s) – a genre influenced by Hollywood, in which all the women were young and beautiful, and the endings always happy. One day his mother told him that the femme-fatales of his favourite movies had - thirty and forty years on - grown old. It was a shock that Nabil would never quite recover from. And nowadays, as a photographer, he spends much of his time recreating the aesthetics of the films.
Adding a contemporary element to his collection are the portraits of modern-day femme-fatales: Catherine Deneuve, Alicia Keys and Fanny Ardant have all had their faces “nabilised” – enshrouded in a grey veil on a blue background, evoking the portraits of yesteryear’s Egyptian stars. But aside from ‘preserving’ their beauty beneath a djellaba, Nabil’s works also question modern society; notably the (in)equality of the sexes, homosexuality and indeed the relationship between the Orient and the West.