Arts & Culture

The Omani photographer sharing the youth’s story

Mahmood Al Zadjali translates the Omani youth’s challenges and aspirations into photography.

By Sekka Team

Mahmood Al Zadjali likes to keep his identity mysterious. Photo courtesy of Mahmood Al Zadjali.

Oman’s population is predominately young. It is something that is observable to any visitor to the country. Emerging photographer and filmmaker Mahmood Al Zadjali is a creative voice of his generation, and an artist to be reckoned with. The 25-year-old chose his young peers, their aspirations and the challenges they face, to be the centre of his work.

An assistant director and a creative consultant for small and medium enterprises by day, where he has assisted in directing national advertisement campaigns, Mahmood’s work explores societal pressures and constraints faced by young artists, culture and identity, through colourful and bold photography that has become his signature style. Scrolling down his Instagram page, you won’t find a clear portrait of Mahmood. The photographer aspires for his work to speak for itself, and he chooses to keep his identity mysterious, covering parts of his face to maintain his anonymity.

We chat with the young photographer about his work and Oman’s creative scene. This interview has been edited for clarity.

Your photography mostly features young people, especially young Omanis. Is there a reason behind that?

Because I am one (he laughs)!  No, but seriously, it’s because it’s the generation that I belong to, and it reflects my mindset. Also, the majority of the population in Oman is young, therefore my work is catered to them. I feel like I’ve created a vessel for young Omanis to voice out their opinions through this online platform that I’ve built, and in turn I get influenced by their struggles to create projects that are relatable to them.

Left: From “Dakwa Boy” by Mahmood Al Zadjali. Right: From “Omani Streets” by Mahmood Al Zadjali.

How do your photography and filmmaking work complement each other?

Storytelling is what I aspire to do in my work, and I am fortunate enough to have met interesting people with unique backgrounds and stories in my field of work, which has allowed me to explore different insights of their personal lives and achievements. I also have a strong belief that everybody has a story to tell, and their stories could open doors for people and inspire others to do things beyond their capabilities.

A photographer from the Gulf who inspires you…

Ishaq Madan from Bahrain is by far one of my biggest inspirations. He seamlessly switches between different styles of photography without losing his authenticity. With a fresh outlook on everything he puts in front of his camera, he is undoubtedly one of the most creative minds the GCC region has to offer.

“Lady in Yellow” by Mahmood Al Zadjali.

A project that is dear to your heart…

“Lady in Yellow”. It is the closest to my heart because of the subject matter. This project explores issues that I believe our generation is suffering from, which is the feeling of being choked by society. During the time of this project, I was incapable of expressing myself, and it was due to society and the creative circle projecting their own ideology on me. Society is calling out certain topics as taboos, and unless we – as creative individuals – fight back to voice out our opinions, society will continue to choke us.

A theme you’d like to explore in your work…

Customs and traditions. In our generation, the idea of customs and traditions hasn’t been explored and has always been stuck in time, defying any alteration by all means possible. It’s because nobody has spent time or effort exploring the fundamental meaning of customs and traditions. Certain parts of society use that to hold people back from truly expressing themselves and that’s what creates the fear of talking about it, because we creatives always fear being judged and seen as misfits. Misfits do have a habit of setting trends, but not the good kind.

“Mattrah” by Mahmood Al Zadjali. Images courtesy of Mahmood Al Zadjali.

We noticed that Oman perhaps distinguishes itself in the GCC by having many photographers who are interested in documenting people’s lives. What’s the reason behind that,  in your opinion?

Oman is humble in its presence, and that has made us go under the radar unnoticed. But our way of life is unique and worth documenting. There are lessons to be learnt from the past, and we can only do that by documenting the present in order to educate the future generations. Furthermore, Oman has many diverse subcultures that feature a certain aesthetic that is appealing. 

Do you think that Omani visual artists’ skills are on par with international standards?

Absolutely. Some of our local artists have already been presenting their work internationally, which goes to show how far we’ve come in the art scene in Oman.

From “Omani Streets” by Mahmood Al Zadjali.

What support could be given to shed more light on their work?

Artists need to build a community amongst themselves in order to uplift each other, as well as to create platforms to enable artists to interact with the general public, and to make art an integral part of society.

One camera you can’t live without

A 1972 Olympus OM-1 film camera because it was the film camera that ignited the love that I have for film photography.

A quote you live by

American YouTube star Casey Neistat said it best: “Do more.”

To view Mahmood’s work, visit his Instagram page by clicking here.

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