I first met M’hammed Kilito while we were both exchange students at the same university in Buenos Aires, Argentina a few years back. I knew “Moh” would often travel around the city with a camera in hand, and he continues to push this visual medium in new creative ways today. His photographs highlight interesting and seemingly ubiquitous mechanisms and ideas to tell stories of reality – for example, one series that caught our eye is grounded in reflecting on and responding to the prevalence of digital and mobile cameras in public space.
M’hammed’s feature is filled with inspiring and critical thought-provoking explorations from a perspective informed by a global experience. We’re excited to see what’s in store with his future projects, including a visual ethnographic analysis of traditional Moroccan garments and cultural globalization. Lets dig in!
I think that Reflection and Response are two interconnected words that can’t exist one without the other. It is a circular cause and effect relationship we go through all our life, because the response we have today isn’t necessarily right or suitable tomorrow.
– M’hammed Kilito
Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?
MK: I’m from Morocco, but I was born in Lviv in Ukraine. My parents got scholarships to study dentistry there and it happened that I was conceived during that time. I’ve been raised in Morocco’s capital Rabat, an extremely beautiful city on the Atlantic coast that often people miss visiting while touring the country, going instead to Casablanca, the city made famous by the movie directed by Michael Curtiz, or Marrakech, the most touristic city in the country. Once I was 18, I moved to Spain for 2 years before moving to Canada. In 2009, I had the chance to go for a university exchange to Buenos Aires, Argentina and it was definitely the craziest trip I have done after Burning Man.
I was fortunate to live in different countries and to learn many languages, but it really makes answering the question where I’m from not an easy task at all. All the cities where I lived have a special place in my heart. In each one of them, I had the chance to meet some wonderful people that had a huge impact on me and contributed immensely to shape the person I’m today. I really believe that we are, to some extent, the product of our socialization.
What does Reflection and Response mean to you?
MK: Those two words mean everything to me and to all of us actually, they are our everyday reality, there is nothing we can do without reflecting and finding responses. I think that Reflection and Response are two interconnected words that can’t exist one without the other. It is a circular cause and effect relationship we go through all our life, because the response we have today isn’t necessarily right or suitable tomorrow. The most intelligent and creative people I’ve met are constantly reflecting on who they are, what matters to them, what should they do next and how they should do it. It keeps us going further, improving and becoming better persons.
How does your work fit in with that definition?
MK: Reflection is a homograph, a word written the same but has two meanings. “… I am a reflection photographing other reflections within a reflection. To photograph reality is to photograph nothing.” Those words are not mine, but those of the great American photographer Duane Michals. I think people often misunderstand the function of photography, they think they are photographing reality while the response in my opinion should be that the function of photography is to reflect reality and imitate it with authenticity.
If I push myself to define the kind of photography I do, I will say that the conceptual framework of my photographic series usually follows two distinct axes. The first, focuses on the boundaries that define reality and illusion, in which I create the moment by staging the photographs. The second axis, is more within the documentary tradition, I play with various contexts to tell stories and explore new ideas, and instead of creating the moment, I seize it.
What else have you been working on recently?
MK: I just finished a project made of two series I called Homo photographicus. Through these two series, I explore the transformation photography is going through at this crucial moment in the history of images. I ponder over the role of digital and compact cameras’ proliferation, their incorporation into mobile telephones, and the influence of the internet and social networks on today’s photography practice.
Initially, this project wasn’t planned at all, the idea came to me the day I purchased a wide angle lens and decided to go to the Montreal botanical gardens to try it. Thinking to shoot the impressive living plant sculptures they have there during summertime, I ended up being more interested in the people taking the pictures of family and friends in front of the sculptures, so I turned my lens toward them and started working on the Homo photographicus project right away. A few weeks later, I went to The United States, France, Portugal, Spain and Morocco and I kept going to public spaces to photograph people taking pictures.
The first series is an illustration of how cameras are everywhere in public spaces. I’m not interested in saying it is good or it is bad, but I observe that it became increasingly difficult to photograph a scene that doesn’t include an individual who is also taking a photograph.
The second series is a reflection on the influence of social networks on photography. Social networks focus on spreading their use by staging intimacy as well as providing the ability to see without being seen. These practices have contributed to the popularization of certain types of photographs, such as the selfies. So I decided to contact and photograph my friend Céline AKA the Selfies Queen who has more than 300 selfie pictures.
What are you looking to work on next?
MK: I’m actually planning a trip to Morocco for a very special project I’ve been thinking of for many years and I feel that the time has come now to hit the road. The idea has been evolving in my mind since 2007. I first thought about it during a visit in Oujda, the city where my maternal family lives. In my childhood memories, in this city, women of a certain age wore the haïk when in public. The haïk is not a religious, but a traditional dress made of a large piece of wool of about five meters by one meter and a half, which veils the figure and facial features. After a fifteen-year absence, I returned to Oujda, and I noticed as my grandmother was getting ready to leave the house that she was not wearing the haïk. I asked her why, and she explained that it was no longer worn. This is when I realized that it took only a few years for a city to forget a costume that had been part of its tradition for many centuries.
My approach is that of an ethnographer – I plan to study with the objective of documenting the costumes of Morocco. We live at a time when, regardless of where we are located, we watch the same TV shows, listen to the same music, and follow the same trends. The phenomenon of cultural globalization, particularly with the increase of the use of technology and media has fostered a very rich global cultural industry. In Morocco, the trend towards cultural homogenization has not eradicated local traditions, but a number of them are dissolving into a universal standardization. Will the traditional costumes that we can still admire in the meandering streets of the medinas and in the welcoming villages of the Middle Atlas still be worn in 5, 10, or 20 years? Conscious that other costumes may disappear, I aim to gather a photographic documentation as complete as possible emphasizing the aesthetic dimension that a garment gives to those who wear it.
Who or what inspires you?
MK: Often as a photographer people ask me about gear, what are the lenses you own, which cameras you have and so on. I always tell them that Daido Moriyama, one of the most important contemporary street photographers, took his major pictures with a point and shoot film camera that a friend lent him, he changed it during the last year for an equivalent digital point and shoot. It didn’t stop him from having exhibitions in the Tate, the International Center of Photography or the MOMA. People have to understand that they should stop spending their money on gear and invest it more on photo-books. I believe that is the best way to improve as a photographer.
All that to say, that I purchased lately a book called Alex Webb: The Suffering of Light, It’s definitely the most beautiful photography book I have ever seen not only because of the amazing retrospective of 30 years of Webb’s work, but also the way it is presented, the paper and the textures of the book. Webb’s composition techniques have been a big inspiration for me. I was used to composing in a very pure, classic way and now I feel that since I’ve had the book things are changing. I really recommend this book to everyone who likes photography.
Is there anything else you would like the Collective to know?
MK: I’m a big fan of the Pink Panther!
Shout out to…?
MK: You, yes you, thank you for being there.
Keep up with M’hammed’s work at the following links:
Reflection and Response.