Sunday, August 30, 2015

Youssef Nassar: The Ladder Of Success

Youssef Nassar
Lebanese/Canadian Photographer Youssef Nassar nurtured his passion for photography and film as a Radio/TV student at Notre Dame University (NDU) in Lebanon, and, since then, he has climbed the ladder, making it to the international industry and representing Lebanon with his exquisite talent.

Dark and macabre themes resonate in Youssef's photographs. Recently his work in the music video industry has taken him on a journey alongside someone who he calls his idol,  the prog rock wonder Steven Wilson (a favorite of mine too!) He has definitely made a name for himself in the local arts scene, and now, as he paves his way on an international level, he is certainly a character to keep tabs on!

I had so many questions on my mind to ask Youssef as I've been a fan of his work for quite some time now; the dramatically touching themes and general vibe of his photographs are inspired by the music he listens to and are eye catching, to say the least.

Here is the exchange we had...

  • ·      What’s up with the dark themes in your work? Where does it come from? Do you base your photography on anything specifically related to yourself?

Well it depends on what you mean by dark.. the themes or the lighting itself? But anyway, I really don't think that my work is dark but maybe a bit different from what we see everyday, at least in the Middle East. To me, it's more dramatic and melancholic, and it's definitely inspired by the music I listen to.
  • ·      Why nudity?

Why not?
[After further questioning, Youssef preferred to leave it at that, and I agree, "why not?" Great work!]

  • ·      Do you see yourself as more of a filmmaker or photographer? What is the difference to you?

I studied film making and not photography. I'll always prefer films over photographs. But it's always harder to manage to shoot a film, depends on the budget you have, the crew, locations, cast.. especially when there's no one really to "support" you. It takes more time and patience, but once it's done and finished, it feels so good. You could watch a film and fall in love with its image but dislike the film as a whole. In photography, every photograph has its own story/look to it, and it's either a good one or a bad one. Film is always harder. But the fact that I studied film making helped me a lot on the whole directing actors technique and how to approach my cast and get better results. And on the other hand, Photography made me become a cinematographer.
  • ·      Can you tell me about your technique?

When it comes to photography I'm extremely picky about the characters I choose, the locations (which are a hassle to find when there's no budget for a constructed set), perfect lighting and exposure while shooting, RAW photographs, and then go crazy in the editing/grading part.
  • ·      Are you self-taught as a photographer?

Yes, It's been 5 years now. Well, the internet helps.

  • ·      How much of a role does editing software play in your work?

It's a major role of course, but when it comes to digital photography, there must be digital editing/grading to it. It's a tool and you have to use it, and it's not easy.

  • ·      Do you ever have doubts before posting new work?

Not really. I'm a perfectionist and I actually love my work or else I wouldn't post stuff in the first place. But then again, I see older stuff and I'm like, "What was I thinking back then," but it's good to evolve and get mature with time.
  • ·      What would you say is your biggest achievement to date?

Working with my idol Steven Wilson. For sure.
  • ·      I remember discovering your work through the video you filmed as a tribute to Porcupine Tree’s track “Normal”. How have things changed since then? 

That was more than 5 years ago! It was my first try shooting something in video mode, and it turned out good. I was very proud of it back then. Now, I'm not.
But that video actually brought to me several videos for local bands to shoot and direct. It's a field of practice, the more you enjoy it, the better you'll get.

  • How did you get in on the project with Steven Wilson’s “Hand.Cannot.Erase.” album?

I went to London 2 years ago before shooting my short film "The Exhibition" to meet Steven Wilson; he had a signing session for the album "The Raven That Refused To Sing" in London followed up by a show 10 days later. So we met and I had some "Ravens" artworks prepared for him to see, and he was impressed, then I simply asked him if it would be possible to attend the whole after party/backstage thing after the show and he actually agreed. So that's when we talked and I told him that I have a script "The Exhibition" and I would love to get the copyrights to use his music in my film. That's when I got sent to Andy Leff, his manager, and we took it from there. Months later, the film was done and Steven loved it and asked the permission to upload the film on his youtube channel, but I couldn't agree to that (I wanted to so badly) because of the nude girls in my film, and I had a deal with them that it was only for film festivals. (I never expected Steven to ask for that)
And since then, we've stayed in touch, until he had songs ready for the "HAND. CANNOT. ERASE." album and we started sharing ideas and he asked me to direct visuals for the live tour for "Perfect Life". He then decided to release it as an official music video. Weeks later, He asked me if I would be interested to work on another film for the song "Happy Returns", and I had to shoot it in Poland with Carrie, the girl from the album cover (that one isn't released yet). It was such an experience!

Steven Wilson by Youssef Nassar

  • ·      How did you feel going into that project with Steven Wilson? Was there any doubt or uneasiness on your end?

He's the most humble, down to earth human/genius being. Of course I felt the pressure at first, I mean I was literally working with my idol and that itself adds the pressure. There were some films I had to watch which he had told me about, to understand the whole concept of the album better and in a visual format. But actually, and because I'm a big fan of his music, and my work is mostly inspired by his music, it wasn't that hard to achieve what Steven was looking for, and we ended up agreeing on everything.
  • ·      Are there any other international collaborations coming up in the future?

I've been working with the record label "KSCOPE" which is my favorite music label with artists such as Steven Wilson, Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, Anathema, The Pineapple Thief, Katatonia...
So I just directed a recent music video for a new duo pop-dreamy rock band "The Receiver" who are signed with KSCOPE.
And on another level, in the future there might be a collaboration between me and Steve Hackett (Genesis), Riverside, and others. (can't name them, I'm not really sure) and most probably with Steven Wilson again.
  • ·      You’ve also done some work with local bands. How does the creative process go on that? Do you and the band members collaborate on ideas and execution?

It depends on the band actually. Every band looks for something different but all of them wants to appear on the video.
I haven't done any video for a local band since working with Steven Wilson honestly.
There are very interesting local bands, but there are issues when it comes to budgeting and I totally understand that, but I'm not interested in doing anything with almost no budget anymore. It affects every aspect of the video, and I wouldn't like that.

  • ·      Tell me about your experience in Cannes.

"The Exhibition" was in the Short Film corner in Cannes Film Festival. It was a very interesting and special experience. I had the chance to attend the screening of "How To Train Your Dragon 2" with my tutor Dr. Nicolas Khabbaz. It was a horrible film, but definitely awesome to be in that beautiful room with all those celebrities in a bowtie event. You feel so tiny there, but definitely one hell of an experience.
  • ·      What is it like to be appreciated locally as well as internationally in the way that you are? Does it ever get to your head?

I'm going to be honest with you; I feel the hate coming from people who work in the field and locally. Especially after the whole "Steven Wilson" thing. These are people that are somehow close to me, but it's fine with me. On the other hand, people that I've never met appreciate my work way too much, and I'm more than grateful for that. We live in a country full of hate anyway. But to everyone who's been supporting my work, from friends to strangers, you people are epic.
  • ·      Being a guitarist yourself, do you ever consider leaving photography to pursue music?

I do play the guitar, but I'm not technically good. I got to a part where I can't explore my skills anymore, but I'm fine. I'd do anything for music, but it's too bad the music scene here isn't appreciated that much. I mean, it's getting better, but it's not enough. But instead, hey look, here's Haifa's new video spreading her va**** to the world with her magnificent voice.

  • ·      Your style and appearance has become, somewhat, your signature. Tell me about that. Is that just you being you?

Haha! I always wanted to grow a beard so I did, and the rest comes with it, or else I'd look like a hobo... Though it's become a bit of a trend recently.
  • ·      How long have you been growing your beard?

3 years maybe now, with lot of trimming.
  • ·      Favorite international album/song?

Album: HAND.CANNOT.ERASE [Steven Wilson]
Song: The Raven That Refused To Sing [Steven Wilson]
  • ·      Favorite local band/musician/singer?

I really don't listen to much from the local scene, but I do support The Wanton Bishops and Who Killed Bruce Lee.

  • ·      Favorite movie?

That's a very hard one, but if I have to choose, I'll go with "Clockwork Orange" by Stanley Cubrick.
  • ·      Is being a Lebanese talent hard when facing the international scene?

Everything is hard when you're Lebanese.
  • ·      What words of advice can you give aspiring photographers?

Support other photographers/artist. There's always someone better than you.

  • ·     What do you think of Lebanese talent?

I think the Lebanese are extremely talented and especially the new wave/generation. Seriously full of talented people everywhere, but not enough support and recognition.
  • ·      What motivates you to keep doing what you do?

I simply love it and it's my passion.

You can check out Youssef Nassar's official website and Facebook page for more pictures.

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