How Bilo Hussein Creates Poignant Photography in a Snap
By Lydia Schoonderbeek
Her photography has her signature branded all over it; a Bilo Hussein image is unequivocally a Bilo Hussein image: glaringly discernable from all others. That is how quick and impactful the imprint of her aesthetic has become. From her commissioned work to her personal oeuvre, it is hard not to react to her subject matter in one way or another as a viewer of her compositions. In a short and sweet meeting with Cairo East Magazine, Bilo steps away from the camera for a cup of coffee in preparation of filling the unfamiliar role of ‘subject’ she is not often used to.
CEM: Bilo, how did it all start?
BH: In 2012 I moved to London to study for a Masters degree in Marketing Communications from the University of Westminster. I bought my first DSLR to record my time there, and that didn’t start off so well. I didn’t know how to use it and it frustrated me. Every photograph I took looked completely different than what I saw. I realized then that there is a gap and I that I needed to do something about it. I started to use my camera as a reason to get out of the house and go to new places. I needed new subject matter. I began studying photography at the London School of Photography, and so after every class I would search for places and just shoot. In six months, I came to the conclusion that I no longer wanted to be in marketing. And that photography was the next thing I would take seriously and develop myself in, and so I applied to the school of visual arts in NYC and moved there. My biggest achievement was to graduate from School of Visual Arts. It was a very challenging and intense program. I am very proud I have been able to do well and connect with so many talented artists.
Tell us about your time in NYC?
NYC is really the best place to live for an artist. It has so much to offer and many opportunities that don’t exist elsewhere. My time there can be easily labeled as the best experience of my life. I was able to meet people from different backgrounds, and explore.
What are some of the key differences between Cairo and NYC in photography?
Apart from the obvious lack of good talent, location, models and creative directors that can inspire to create better images in Cairo, the main difference for me would be the light. I am very perceptive to sunlight and it is very different in quality than in NYC.
From the photographs you have taken, do you have a favorite?
This is a very difficult question. I don’t have a favorite. All is my work. I relate to each image I make differently. I would be less attached to my commercial work, because it has someone else input on it. However, I find myself going back to old personal work, revisiting it, analyzing it and remembering a certain emotion that was evoked during a session.
How would you describe yourself in 5 words or less?
Introvert, dreamer, receptive.
When you are out and about, what compels you to shoot?
I enjoy making photos about people and places, and not of them. I find myself attracted to everything that is different from what I am. I love travelling and getting exposed to new cultures. I think if I didn’t pursue photography, I would have studied anthropology (I am still planning to some day).
Who is your favorite photographer from the last decades?
My favorite keeps changing as I develop, and depending on which stage I am at. However, Erwin Olaf has been my favorite for the last two years. I love his work.
How do you feel technology and social media have affected communication and the image?
Of course technology has changed our lives forever, and our human interactions have changed accordingly. We now connect differently and plan events differently. We discuss vital social and political issues differently. I think most of the people who have witnessed life before this outburst of technology can easily see the difference. I wonder what the new generation, that is growing up right now surrounded by technology will be like ten years from now. This question reminds me of a body of work that was created by photographer Dina Litovsky, titled ‘untag this photo’, where she explores how female behavior in night clubs has changed because of smartphones and photo-sharing social platforms. Her observation of how young females now go out to pose for cameras and share photos rather than interact with other people existing in the same place is quite interesting.