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3aila by Ismail Zaidy photographer Morocco
3ailaPhotography Ismail Zaidy

The young Moroccan photographer creating dream-like photos of his family

‘I use photography to express my inner point of view on topics I can’t express through words,’ says Ismail Zaidy, whose work pays homage to his familiar surroundings

For Moroccan self-taught photographer Ismail Zaidy, image-making is a family affair. In 2018, Zaidy started a project titled 3aila – which translates to ‘family’ – with his younger brother and sister, who often help him brainstorm the concepts and ideas behind his shoots. “I started taking pictures about two years ago before I finished university,” he recalls. “My mum used to be a photographer, so something was bursting inside of me to continue the same.”

But without a camera or a studio to shoot in, Zaidy took to the roof of his home with his Samsung S5 and cast his family as models. “I started taking pictures of my surroundings from upstairs on my balcony. After a time, I began to take it more seriously, using the means at my disposal to develop and grow.”

Four years on, his images have transcended the confines of his house, beyond the borders of Morocco, and are being exhibited worldwide. Renowned for their abstract qualities and minimalism, Zaidy pays homage to his familiar surroundings, the clothes he saw women wearing growing up in his modest hometown, and the colours of the Red City – also known as Marrakesh, where he was born. “I found my style based on celebrating colours, (but) I found difficulties in the absence of filming locations and the expensive models to deal with,” he explains. “Still, I tried to circumvent the difficulties by photographing based on what I had. I discovered I had everything I needed near me: a family that believes in my thoughts and a rooftop on which the sun never sets.”

Despite the optimistic palette of pink, blue, and white, there’s a message, a tension, lurking amongst his frames – a warning not to overlook what awe already have. “I’m trying to shine a light on certain subjects: a lack of communication, the distance between siblings and their parents, and family estrangement are problems that affect many but are rarely talked about,” he says. ‘I’m trying to treat this issue poetically throughout my work, showing that family is one of the most valuable gifts in our lives.”

Striking in their awe-inspiring beauty, Zaidy’s photographs are dream-like, blurring the lines between reality and otherworldly – the North African sky serving as a backdrop that makes it feel like anything is possible. As a man of few words, Zaidy harnesses his camera as a tool to communicate instead. “I use photography to express my inner point of view on topics I can’t express through words,” he says. “Most of the time, I don’t like to talk too much, so the best medium I have explored and found to express myself is through photography and imagery.”