A Conversation With Mohamed Ayyad

posted by on 02/10/2012

Mohamed Ayyad is easily one of the most gifted people that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in London. If you haven’t already stared at his photography above for a good 5 minutes, do it. I’ve already picked up my Canon 5D and placed it on lap, itching to go take photographs now. That’s what a good photographer does to you, inspiration to better your own craft. I speak to the award-winning photographer on his journey so far, inspirations and more. Enjoy.

1. Let’s start with an easy question, who are you and what do you do?

Greetings – yes a very easy question….My name is Mohamed, and I am a London based Photographer, Filmmaker and Writer. Peace and blessings be upon you.

2. Why Photography? How did you first get into it?

I was a tad rebellious during my adolescent years and had a few failed endeavours. However, I was fortunate enough to secure a place at a respected Arts school close to home. They were a few weeks into the academic year at the time of my arrival, so I was not offered all of my preferred subject choices due to the amount of work that I had already missed. It meant I was forced to decide between Graphic Design and Photography – the latter being the one that I went on to study. I always loved drawing, so the idea of constructing images through an unexplored medium most probably influenced my choice. Now one would expect a fairytale romance to proceed from here, but I suspect most will be as disappointed as I was to begin with. I just did not find joy or meaning in taking pictures of the litter that decorated the school garden. I was ready to quit after a few lessons, but my teacher (shouts to Miss Adams) kept me in place. Her habitual showers of enthusiasm and genuine passion for Photography encouraged me to stay patient and progress further with the subject. I really do have so much praise and thanks to pass for her efforts with me. When I finished my A Levels, I made the decision to take a gap year before continuing with a Higher Education course. I felt that it was important for me to gain experience as a freelance creative and to mature as an individual in the ‘real world’ before committing to anything else. I now study at the London College of Fashion, and I must confess that I am pleased to have followed this path.

3. When did you realise this is something that you could make a living out of?

If I am to be truthful, I still do not know if Photography alone will be enough as a sustainable means of living. For now, I guess it works. I live a simple life, so I am fortunate enough to be selective in what I do to make ends meet. I know things are likely to change when I have the responsibility of a family to look after, so I will just have to wait and see what God has planned for me. If all fails, I can see myself becoming a teacher.

4. What’s the toughest challenges that you faced getting here as a full-time photographer?

Myself. I am both cautious and critical of the content that I choose to do and put out. All works must have a tenable purpose or meaning behind them – I cannot commit myself otherwise.

5. How would you describe your style of photography? In fact, how did you go about discovering your style over the years?

Each subject that I document is in some form a reflection of a personal experience or myself. So, I would describe my works as self-portrayals rather than limiting them to a specific form of Photography. In terms of discovering a ‘style’, I believe that the early transition I made from digital to analogue equipment is what helped to establish an approach and understanding of my practise today. Analogue demands for a discipline as you are somewhat restrained by a methodical workflow, contrasting the more lax and flexible nature of digital. Moreover, visually there is minimal room for error. You can review and accordingly adjust on the fly with a digital system whereas with film you must develop and then appraise the material, so it is critical to perfect things before taking the photograph.

6. Any photographers out there that influenced your style/you look up to?

Jeff Wall, Alec Soth, Gregory Crewdson, Tim Walker, Lise Sarfati, Richard Avedon, Steve McCurry, Harry Gruyaert…

7. Tell us a bit about your ‘This is London’ project

*Inserts press release*

‘This is London’ is a documentation of the raw and delinquent characters that can be found within London areas commonly associated with poverty and violence. With the perpetual threat of recession and a lack of career prospects, I believe that only these young inhabitants can serve as a true reflection of modern London. They have nothing to hide, nor do they pretend to be something they are not. They just exist within the struggle and drama of their lives; aching to have a say/make a change in the future of a city that they often feel is not equally theirs.

8. Your pictures always tell a story using multiple elements. How do you bring these elements together?

For me there is no process or formula that bring these elements together. I just have an overall vision of how I want the end product to look along with how I wish people to interpret it. By adopting this ‘method’ I find that both purpose and meaning are consistently presented within my work. With the greatest of respect, it seems that some photographers of my age are more focused on the aesthetics of the image and not to the story behind it. I believe there has to be a balance between the two in order for an image to command attention.

9. A question I ask to every photographer, what’s in your armory?

Currently I use a Mamiya RZ67 Pro IID with a 110mm F2.8, and a Canon 5D Mark II with a couple of primes. I just put my name down for the new Leica M, so I will most likely have to sell everything that I have (including myself) to finance its acquisition.

10. I’ve noticed that you’re quite the spiritual person, what part does your faith play in your work?

The word ‘Muslim’ means ‘one who has submitted to God’. As a practicing Muslim, I apply my faith to every aspect of my life – including Photography. Modesty is something I believe in for both genders, so I am very cautious of how I represent people. Islam has opened my eyes to the fact that men and women are more than just “pieces of meat” and this allows me to steer clear of the somewhat clichéd hyper-sexualisation present in contemporary Photography. I guess in the same way that all the prophets (peace be upon them) of God did, I strive to look beyond appearance and speak to the minds and hearts of individuals instead.

11. What’s next in the world of Mohamed Ayyad?

Only God knows the answer to this question. I have the intention to find myself an agent. Also, I would very much like to produce a short film in relation to my ‘Revert’ series.

Inspired right? If you want to see more of Mohamed’s work – click the links below. He’s definitely one to keep your eye on.

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