“The light in Morocco is like nothing I’ve seen before,” says British photographer Karim Skalli, whose final-year project Mimasu was recently on show at Free Range in London. Inspired in no small part by childhood memories of long roadtrips gazing out at a horizon ablaze with colour, Mimasu captures the subtleties of everyday life.
Karim Skalli understood as a child, when visiting his family in Casablanca, that light is not merely a source of illumination – it’s sensorial, evoking a mood or a feeling when it beams through crevices in curtains and on to objects in the home.
One of six children, his mother and father would pile them all into a big red van and travel across continents – through England, France and Spain – to reach Casablanca, the birthplace of his father.
“We couldn’t afford to fly because there were just too many of us, so my father would drive: it would take days. There wasn’t much to do on those trips, so I used to stare out the window, looking at all the different landscapes, the different cities, the different people. I was captivated by the soft tones the sun cast as it set. Those trips were my window into the world beyond – almost literally,” says Skalli.
Light shapes our relationship with both interior and exterior spaces; for example, it plays a significant role in Islamic architecture, shaping the interiors of mosques as it streams through magnificent domes and windows, highlighting a vaulted space or creating a kaleidoscope of colours on structural lines.
“The light in Morocco is like nothing I’ve seen before. It created the most perfect mood for my final-year project, Mimasu,” says 22-year-old Skalli, who recently graduated from Norwich University of the Arts with a BA in photography. “I knew it was essential to shoot part of this project in Casablanca and capture as much as I could.”
Skalli was born and raised in Kingston upon Hull, east Yorkshire. “The Venice of the north,” he says. He and his siblings spent much of their childhood visiting his English mother’s family in Northumberland and his father’s relatives in Morocco. “We’re a big family, and all that travelling meant there was always a camera handy; always hundreds of pictures taken of our visits. Today they’re stored in albums and we often all sit around looking back at our childhood. It evokes a sense of nostalgia; I think my family’s enthusiasm for documenting everything has stayed with me.”
Mimasu took about a year-and-a-half to complete, shot in various locations around Morocco and England. It’s a visual diary of Skalli’s observations, in which he examines the people, spaces and objects that surround him. “The idea was to challenge what my everyday could be, capturing it in a literal and ambiguous manner, photographing fleeting moments that we often take for granted and everyday things we don’t notice exist.
“Working on Mimasu allowed me to really look, really observe my surroundings, and capture the quiet, the stillness and the subtlety of the everyday. It helped me to understand and appreciate things like the texture of rain streaming down glass, or light illuminating a space and transforming it completely.”
He would go for long walks, immersing himself in his surroundings, his Olympus OM10 and 50mm lens hanging from a leather strap around his neck. “I would watch how light was interacting with the landscape and would choose the right moment to shoot, but sometimes I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, so I was able to capture fleeting moments. It made sense to shoot film for this project – it allowed me to choose my shots carefully, but also because film lends itself to the delicacy and intimacy of light. Film has this magical quality about it that I don’t quite get when shooting digital.”
Mimasu – which means ‘watch, look, see’ in Japanese (a title attributed largely to Skalli’s fascination with the Japanese photographer Rinko Kawauchi) – was recently on show in a portfolio exhibition titled Photography NUA, which formed part of this summer’s series of Free Range graduate shows at the Old Truman Brewery in east London. “I edited the series mainly by myself as I knew what I wanted to convey, but I did get feedback from others, which helps because you get someone else’s perspective.”
Skalli is currently working on a project that delves more deeply into his English-Moroccan heritage. “I’m photographing inside the house I grew up in to understand how the spaces, objects and people are formative of my identity today, and if their cultural presence has affected the way I think and see the world today. It’s still early days, but it’s something I plan to progress while studying for my MA next year.”
For more on Karim Skalli’s work, visit his website