There is something somewhat deceiving about Youssef Nabil’s exhibition at Yossi Milo Gallery, and that’s the fact that somehow, the images make you think that you’ve seen this before. Except that you haven’t. These images are all recent, they are not vintage images unearthed at some flea market or in some photographer’s archives somewhere. They are “hand-colored gelatin silver prints are carefully crafted portraits inspired by Egyptian movie posters and films of the 1940s and 1950s.” (quoted from the press release) (more)
Unfortunately, the images most often reproduced from this show are the weakest ones - at least for this reviewer. You’ve probably seen, for example, Catherine Deneuve’s portrait, but here, as in the other celebrity portraits, the hand-colouring seems to fall flat: It’s well, quite ordinary portraits of people we’ve seen more than enough of already.
I suppose what I’m really after is that if the hand-colouring is used just for what it is, it’s a gimmick. Once you look at some of the other work in this exhibition you will realize that there are many other images where the technique is used for narrative effect. Of course, that points to something I talked about previously: Any image that relies fully and only on the photographic technique used to create it has very little to offer other than, well, being testament of the artist’s ability to work with said technique. The very successful images in this show, and there are many of them, use the hand-colouring to deceive the viewer, to lead her or him down a road, and to then abandon her or him: See, this is all very romantic, very idealized, except that it isn’t.
For me, the movie connection doesn’t even matter that much, or to be more precise: Not at all. What truly matters is that the viewer is taken out of some context into another context, and her or his cultural images (and, possibly, collection of stereotypes) then does the rest. So it’s not very clear what exactly you are actually looking at when you think you understand what you see: The photograph or your own ideas of what images that look like this mean.
And you realize what nostalgia really is: It’s not looking back at an old, ideal images - it’s looking at new images, coloured and changed to look appealing, a reality that never existed that way.
For an alternative take see DLK’s review