Habby Khalil: Be­yond the Vis­i­ble

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Born in Alexandria, Egypt Habby Khalil first learned about art from his fa­ther, an am­a­teur pain­ter, which then saw him tak­ing draw­ing classes at the age of ten. How­ever, he then re­alised that his pur­suit of an aca­demic de­gree in busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion had driven him away from his real in­ter­ests. As a re­sult, he de­cided to ed­u­cate him­self in the arts, which saw him ex­per­i­ment­ing with 3D an­i­ma­tion to be­come a di­rec­tor while con­tin­u­ing to ex­plore var­i­ous el­e­ments re­lated to com­po­si­tion and light­ing. Though he dab­bled with pho­tog­ra­phy as a hobby, he did not take it se­ri­ously un­til the work, he en­tered in a com­pe­ti­tion at the Amer­i­can Arts Fes­ti­val in Qatar, won him first prize. The next eight years that fol­lowed Khalil suc­cess­fully built an ex­ten­sive port­fo­lio based on work with many in­ter­na­tional agen­cies and brands ac­com­pa­nied with ex­po­sure fea­tured in in­ter­na­tional publi­ca­tions and mag­a­zines. In the fol­low­ing in­ter­view, Habby shares his pas­sion cov­er­ing a short though promis­ing ca­reer.

What’s the best part of be­ing a pho­tog­ra­pher?

There is no doubt that cre­ation is the best part and the main mo­tive in all gen­res of art. As an advertising and fine art pho­tog­ra­pher, my plea­sure ig­nites with the birth of an idea and con­tin­ues along the pro­duc­tion process and the ex­e­cu­tion of the fi­nal vis­ual. This whole pro­ce­dure is by far the most en­chant­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that never fails to add en­light­en­ment to my soul as an artist. Pho­tog­ra­phy be­yond the fact that it im­mor­talises the mo­ments, it also rein­tro­duces beauty. It ex­poses it out of its nor­mal ca­su­alty where most of us re­ally don't have the time for notic­ing it, be­cause of nowa­days’ rapid pace of life.

What’s the hard­est part of your job?

The hard­est part of my job is han­dling projects that have lim­ited time and ur­gent dead­lines, where it be­comes re­ally tough to smoothly move from a phase to another giv­ing each step the re­quired time and space it ac­tu­ally needs in or­der to ob­tain the best re­sults with­out stress.

If not a pho­tog­ra­pher who you would have been?

I am sure that I would have never given up on arts and cre­ativ­ity. If not a pho­tog­ra­pher, I would have gone fur­ther in my pre­vi­ous ca­reer as an an­i­ma­tion di­rec­tor.

How would you de­scribe your style? And how did you de­velop it?

I have al­ways found my­self at­tracted to ex­press­ing my art in rem­i­nis­cence to the mid 1900s. This era in­deed is such an in­spi­ra­tion to me for how much great­ness and rich­ness it be­holds of cul­tural and in­tel­lec­tual move­ments as well as a leap in mod­ern art and huge changes in po­lit­i­cal sys­tems.

Which pho­tog­ra­phers inspired you most, and how did they in­flu­ence your think­ing, style, and ca­reer path?

One of the big names who had been a great in­spi­ra­tion to me at the be­gin­ning of my ca­reer is the Ger­man pho­tog­ra­pher Roland Fisher whom I met

in Doha in 2008. This man was my gate to the world of fine art. In ad­di­tion to other names such as Gre­gory Crewd­son, Er­win Olaf, Philip Lorca Di­cor­cia, An­nie Lei­bovitz, and Eu­ge­nio Re­cuenco.

How do you ed­u­cate your­self to take bet­ter pic­tures?

In or­der to ex­pand my knowl­edge and de­velop my artis­tic abil­i­ties I've con­stantly done the fol­low­ing: - Pas­sion­ately read­ing fine art books

and publi­ca­tions es­pe­cially about the history of art and dif­fer­ent art move­ments, in ad­di­tion to literature, which has con­trib­uted a lot in en­rich­ing my cre­ativ­ity and imag­i­na­tion. - Ob­serv­ing and analysing dif­fer­ent vis­ual art ma­te­ri­als in ad­di­tion to pho­to­graphic works. - Fi­nally shoot, shoot and shoot!

One of to­day’s main dis­cus­sion points amongst pho­tog­ra­phers is about the use of dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy; do you use dig­i­tal cam­eras? And what is the in­flu­ence of dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy on your pho­tog­ra­phy?

Since my begin­nings as a pho­tog­ra­pher, dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy was my choice. For­tu­nately, the in­dus­try of dig­i­tal cam­eras has evolved re­ally well and it reached a level where it's al­most very hard to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween the re­sults of dig­i­tal and film cam­eras. Re­gard­ing post pro­duc­tion dig­i­tal pro­cess­ing is a dou­ble-edged sword be­cause while it al­lows the pho­tog­ra­phers to edit their photos in a faster and more del­i­cate way with a lower cost, it also al­lows some new pho­tog­ra­phers to abuse this fea­ture and overdo dig­i­tal re­touch­ing and colour­ing in­stead of ac­tu­ally tak­ing a good photos. Depend­ing only on these fea­tures may threaten the whole artis­tic val­ues of pho­tog­ra­phy. I see it as a grow­ing mis­con­cep­tion be­tween pho­tog­ra­phy and photo ma­nip­u­la­tion.

What kind of mode do you go into when pho­tograph­ing a con­cept or idea you are pas­sion­ate about?

It is very hard to de­scribe, be­cause I hon­estly never had so much plea­sure as much as I had while work­ing on a con­cept of my own or on a job that gives me enough space to freely re­flect my per­sonal vi­sion. Although this usu­ally means more men­tal and phys­i­cal ef­forts, but ac­cord­ing to my ex­pe­ri­ence, that space usu­ally turns to a more sat­is­fy­ing re­sult for me and the client.

We know that each of us has some­one or some­thing, which inspires our life and work. Can you tell us the true ba­sis of your in­spi­ra­tion, the point of de­par­ture for a photo ses­sion?

Ob­serv­ing the hid­den psy­cho­log­i­cal and philo­soph­i­cal mean­ing in my sur­round­ing and all events of life whether per­sonal or public, makes life it­self an eter­nal flow­ing river of thoughts and in­spi­ra­tions.

What is the favourite im­age you have shot re­cently? Can you de­scribe its cre­ation…

I can tell you about a cam­paign, which I con­sider one of the best work I have done re­cently. It's "With You Since 1979" com­mis­sioned by Sports Cor­ner. The vi­su­als show the jour­ney that Sports Cor­ner has taken with the peo­ple of Qatar through a sen­tence ex­pressed by an ath­lete that goes from one mile­stone to the other and ends by scor­ing/achiev­ing a goal. To get the best re­sults in the im­age a 3D pre-vi­su­al­i­sa­tion was done and it helped a lot in imag­in­ing the cam­era place­ment and it's height, in ad­di­tion to the place­ment of the ath­letes ac­cord­ingly. The big­gest chal­lenge was get­ting the tal­ents to make the ac­tual body move­ments iden­ti­cal to those of real ath­letes in the game. This sit­u­a­tion leads me to hire real play­ers and coaches to di­rect the tal­ents move­ments in the best shape. I also had to rent a cin­e­matic spe­cial

ef­fects wiring sys­tem to help the "play­ers" (char­ac­ters) stay still in the air while shoot­ing. More­over, it wasn't easy at all find­ing sim­i­lar fa­cial fea­tures in com­plete strangers of dif­fer­ent ages in or­der to make them look as a one per­son in each vis­ual. All the char­ac­ters were shot in­side the stu­dio on a white back­drop while the sta­di­ums were built us­ing CG. I used six flash units to draw the light­ing on the char­ac­ters and two flash units along two HMI units for even light­ing in the back­ground. In this cam­paign, I used my Has­sel­blad 503CW with a 50mm lens. Set­tings were: ISO 100, shut­ter speed 1/250s, aper­ture f11.

What makes a good pic­ture stand out from the av­er­age?

I be­lieve that a suc­cess­ful photo is a photo that crosses the vis­ual beauty to reach the in­ner self of the viewer bring­ing to him cer­tain mem­o­ries and feel­ings that di­rectly re­late to him in per­son. Speak­ing about advertising and con­cep­tual pho­tog­ra­phy, the orig­i­nal­ity of the con­cept and the in­ge­nu­ity in ex­e­cut­ing it, de­ter­mines the stan­dards of a suc­cess­ful vis­ual.

Can you tell us about a pro­ject you've felt re­ally con­nected to and why?

My art pro­ject "Alien­ation", which I'm still work­ing on is one of the most im­por­tant projects to me and the clos­est to my heart. It is a con­cept that took

two years of con­cep­tu­al­i­sa­tion and prepa­ra­tion un­til it fi­nally just started to see the light. The con­cept re­veals the feel­ings of grief, de­feat, and re­frac­tion that have taken over the Egyp­tian di­vini­ties, those who were once the gods of one of the great­est cul­tures in history. When they re­alised that there is no use of stay­ing, and in a cer­tain mo­ment, they just de­cided to leave all this glory be­hind and run away from their painful re­al­ity and un­de­ter­mined fu­ture.

Do you get to work with ad agen­cies on spe­cific as­sign­ments?

Yes, I have been work­ing with sev­eral in­ter­na­tional advertising agen­cies in ad­di­tion to many projects that I got through pro­duc­tion houses and pho­tog­ra­phers agents. I also dealt with pub­lish­ing houses while other projects I got di­rectly through clients.

Do you see your­self as a pho­tog­ra­pher many years down the road?

My pas­sion for pho­tog­ra­phy and the con­cepts that I have in mind will prob­a­bly fill many more years to come. Let’s hope I could bring out to light most of these ideas dur­ing my jour­ney as a pho­tog­ra­pher.

What ad­vice do you have for pho­tog­ra­phers just start­ing out?

My ad­vice is to never limit your de­vel­op­ment to the tech­ni­cal side only with­out open­ing your­self to all as­pects of art. Nour­ish­ing your artist's soul will guar­an­tee your unique char­ac­ter as a pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher. Last but not least, keep your cam­era ready in or­der to take shots when­ever and wher­ever it's pos­si­ble.

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