High fashion and the philosophy of image-making with Mous Lamrabat
Photography is an art form that sparks connection and response, says fashion and fine art extraordinaire Mous Lamrabat. Well known for his distinct creative vision, the photographer dives deep into creating his style, being representative, and explaining how the Nikon Z 8 is pushing his creativity
“You don’t want to be replaceable,” Mous Lamrabat reflects. “When you start doing what everybody else is doing then at some point, there’s going to be a new generation doing it better than you.”
The Moroccan-born Belgian photographer is well known for his distinct fashion and fine art style, having worked for Elle, Vogue Italia and Arabia, GQ Middle East and Esquire. Recently returned from Spain shooting The Movement series with eight other creators, Mous sits down with Nikon magazine to chat about his philosophy of image-making, his career and the new Nikon Z 8.
Defining Mous Lamrabat’s style
“My style is very personal,” Mous says. “It’s the things that interest me.” Having moved to Belgium from Morocco when he was two, he felt, growing up, as if he was living between two worlds and two cultures. “At some point you try to choose [just one world] but, in the end, I realised there was so much more richness experiencing both.
“I like humour in my photos. It’s not always on the first layer — it depends on how sensitive the subject matter is. I feel you should attract the viewer first, aesthetically or by evoking an emotion so the person looks at the photo a bit longer and then reads into these layers. That’s what I love to do – attract people with my work and give them a message, like a message in a bottle.”
Mystery is at the crux of Mous’ imagery. The fact that he doesn’t like to categorise himself into a genre of photography adds to his mystery. “People, by default, need to be able to read someone or need to be able to play someone to function,” he says. “This is why mystery is called mystery – mystery is something that we can’t get a hold of. When you can’t get any depth of a person that does something to you, you keep fishing and asking questions to find a little bit more texture to them. A lot of people couldn’t place my work, especially in the beginning, as a result.”
For Mous, interests make who you are. “These are my interests now and I don’t want to push other interests away,” he says.
“Sometimes I create to show people the things I want to say,” Mous says. “And sometimes I create just for me. There are photos that don’t even end up on the internet. I’m not a person that tries to shock people, I like to create conversations.
“I want to bring people together, while bringing cultures together. I love to see how beautifully it works together within the imagery.”
If you add 90s pop culture, a sprinkle of humour and colour and, of course, the photographer’s own personal experience, you have the ingredients that define a Mous image. “I love the aesthetics of Morocco,” Mous adds. “Sometimes, not always, there is a political aspect to an image. I feel people take more time to look at something through an artwork – there are issues that need to be addressed but are placed within a beautiful setting.”
Be irreplaceable and know when to sacrifice
Sometimes in photography you have to shoot to make ends meet, says Mous. You can’t always photograph exactly what you want to do. “I live in Belgium and there’s no Belgian magazine that publishes the kind of imagery I shoot.” There’s a balance with trying to connect with the magazine and defining your vision, especially at the beginning of your career.
Mous’ advice? Make sure your photography is fresh. “When you get an assignment and you can’t do it that day, make sure they don’t look for another person to do it. Make sure they change the day for you, because then you know they have chosen you for your vision.”
Finding your own creative vision doesn’t come overnight. “It takes time,” Mous adds. “Being aware and wanting to have DNA of your own means you’re already 50% there – your eyes and senses are open. Finding your vision is the most important thing you will have to invest in your career, it will give you the freedom of being you as a person, as a creative and as an artist. It will make your life so much more valuable.”
The new Nikon Z 8’s AF is unlike no other
Along with eight other creators, Mous has recently returned from Spain shooting with the new Nikon Z 8. But how did he turn his mood board into reality?
“I started with the ideas that I had in my head and then I let myself get inspired. I love being creative on the spot, this is what I enjoy the most. I try to have some ingredients with me, then it’s just about freestyling in the kitchen! If the ingredients are there, it’s just a matter of putting the right things together. Sometimes they don’t look good and you have to try again,” he laughs.
“The image is so sharp and the colours are really amazing,” Mous adds. “I did this one photo with the bright blue sky against red roses with a red jacket and the colours are straight out of the camera. Even the Nikon support guy said, ‘What did you do with the image?’ And I said, ‘No, it’s like this just out of the camera.’ Even he was surprised!
“The eye-recognition is superb. I had this model with beads on her head hanging forward, and I took this wide-angle shot while she was shaking these beads and it was crazy how it stayed on her eyes, every photo,” Mous says.
“I usually use a NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S lens. I have a camera, a lens and a speedlight – that’s my bag. I had never shot lower than f/1.8 until I tried the Nikon Z 8 but there was a treasure chest of lenses to try in Spain, so a put on the NIKKOR 50mm f/1.2 S and it was really exciting. I took a test photo of my assistant and it was a beautiful portrait, so I used the lens during my fashion shoot with the camera. The 50mm f/1.2 combined with the eye AF on the Z 8 was so good, and I really love that lens now. I also love the distortion you can get with the NIKKOR Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S. Maybe not one for all the time, but nice to have in the bag for something different.”
It’s clear that Mous knows what he wants and goes after it. “I like to work fast,” he says. “If there’s an idea, I want to capture it. If I see the shot I want to take, I don’t want to have this big bag of camera gear or have to change lenses. That’s why the Z 8 is perfect – I’m not limited by heavy gear.”