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Karim El Maktafi on life with dual heritage

Untitled, from the series Hayati © Karim El Maktafi

Born in Italy to Moroccan parents, Karim El Maktafi has recorded a very personal take on growing up with two nations

Hayati, meaning “my life” in Arabic, reflects on photographer Karim El Maktafi’s dual identity as a second-generation Italian born to Moroccan parents. The images were taken in both Italy and Morocco, and are all shot on an iPhone SE [Special Edition] – for a couple of reasons.

El Maktafi got into image-making via smartphones as a teen, after using them to take photographs of his friends. After graduating from the Italian Institute of Photography in 2013, he returned to the device with a more trained eye, when he decided to shoot Hayati.

He also uses a smartphone camera is because it’s less intrusive. El Maktafi’s family were against him photographing them, and in general don’t approve of photography as a career, which is why their faces are either cropped out or disguised by rays of light in the project. Using a smaller camera proved gentler way to record them, and the many other people involved.

Hayati, which recently won second prize in the prestigious Fotobookfestival Kassel Dummy Award, mixes many images – portraits of El Maktafi’s family, vintage family photos, pictures of friends, shots of the Arabic school books bought for him as a child, an image of a group of men praying outside a mosque in Italy, and even pages from his Arabic school books. As such, it’s an intimate picture of life for a second-generation migrant, who has grown up with two very different cultures.

Untitled, from the series Hayati © Karim El Maktafi.

“Growing up, you think you have to choose one identity,” says El Maktafi, “one for your home life, and one for school”. There are clear contrasts in the project, he adds, “because in real life, when you grow up, these things clash every day”. But there is also a blur between the two countries, he adds, intended to confuse the viewer and to reflect both the uncertainties he felt growing up, and the cultural mix he inherited.

In the end he wanted to capture the “good parts” of both of cultures, he says, and his increasing confidence about where he stands within them. “Shooting Hayati has helped me a lot,” he observes. “Now I can say I know more from each of my cultures”.

karimelmaktafi.com

Untitled, from the series Hayati © Karim El Maktafi.

Untitled, from the series Hayati © Karim El Maktafi.

Untitled, from the series Hayati © Karim El Maktafi.

Untitled, from the series Hayati © Karim El Maktafi.

Untitled, from the series Hayati © Karim El Maktafi.