A Moroccan Photographer Took Us On a Tour in Hong Kong, and It Was Magic

You won't meet many Moroccan photographers who live in Hong Kong in your life and Abdela Igmirien will be one you always remember. With his unique voice and vision, he always manages to capture the touching little moments in this “Ghost in a Shell” city.

With the sound of the awakening bell in this tropical city's late summer, we took a morning walk with Igmirien and hopped on a few chess tables, walked along some food market parking lot passageways, and explored the neighborhood of Chai Wan, where industrial compounds alongside public housing estates took over its old fishing heritage. The city is loud and messy, but for some reasons, Abdela's eyes always capture the quiet and peaceful sides we don't tend to notice. 

We also spoke to Abdela afterwards, about his origins, how he ended up in Hong Kong, and where he sees this city going. 

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1. Could you tell us about yourself? Your background, your hometown, your life at the moment?

I am Abdela from a little village situated at the foot of the Anti-Atlas mountains in Morocco, I've been living in Asia since 2011 and have changed careers from a surveyor engineering and research to a photography and multimedia art. I live now in Hong Kong after spending some time in Shanghai and Beijing.

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2. Why Hong Kong?

I visited Hong Kong the first time on a trip back to Morocco, I was just passing by and I felt like it's a city I'd like to be at. First job opportunity I got here, I took it. and here I am 3 years later, I just enjoy the energy this city has given me with all the awesome people I met here.

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3. Could you tell us your favourite spots to shoot in Hong Kong? What are the most instagrammable places you’d recommend?

I like to shoot mostly in Kowloon side or New Territories, near the public housing estates spread all around town.

I don't usually like to take photos at highly instagrammed places in Hong Kong as I get bored seeing lots of photos from the same places, but I'd recommend these:

a) Jockey Club Innovation Tower,

b) Choi Hung Estate,

c) Lok Wah South Estate,

d) Cape d'Aguilar,

e) Sham Shui Po streets,

f) Hong Kong Cultural Centre.

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4. There is a delicacy of tenderness, intimacy and sense of condensed time in your photographs. What are some of the things/artist/photographers/music you like that might inspire you with this mood? 

My style keeps evolving, influenced by media I see, people I meet, and experiences I get. I started with street photography (that I still do), but now moving more towards staged portraits, fashion photography and conceptual imagery. I get most of my inspiration from photography and cinema, from masters of the photo like Guy Bourdin, Martin Parr, Viviane Sassen and others, and from motion picture masters such as Emmanuel Lubezki, Christopher Doyle, and Robert Richardson. Classical music plays a role in the mood I set from some images, bringing that finesse to a visual stand. The mood in my images might come from one or another or an unexplained mix of all, I don't plan much my photos, coincidence plays a big role in my creation process sometimes.

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5. What is it like being a Moroccan living in Hong Kong? 

A Moroccan living in Hong Kong is like any other individual living far from home and trying to adapt to a complete different atmosphere. It can be hard to anyone coming from the west to the east, but going through mainland China first, I easily adjusted my pace to the city.

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6. You lived and travelled to amazing places in China. Could you tell us about your trip to Xinjiang? Or any other highlights? (can you tell us one or two exceptional moments/places that struck you) 

During my stay in China, I had the chance to roam a lot in its vast territory. Some of my favourite places is Xinjiang, I visited first time on my holiday and was amazed by how Kashgar and its people (the Uyghur) are very similar to some Moroccan cities and villages it many aspects, such as architecture, fashion and cuisine, and of course the religion (Islam). My first trip made me want to go back and discover more, that's what I did a year after, where I had the chance to take some photos and meet more people, some of story can be found here.

Other than Xinjiang, part of a documentary I was helping in making with a Spanish filmmaker, we traveled to many regions and villages to meet Chinese muslims to learn about their history and try to document it, and this started with a Hui family I met in Beijing that used to own a restaurant and had to leave back to Qinghai for financial reasons.

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7. How do you see the creative energy in Hong Kong at the moment? Is there something in the brewing process?

The creative sphere in Hong Kong is growing but slowly, limited to some circles of individuals running the show, and with no network you can't do much, no help is provided by the government either, this city breathes commercial air. Nothing much is brewing, I am just working on more films now and hoping to finish editing someday soon. I'd love to set up a solo exhibition of my new work if I get a sponsorship by some gallery haha I can't afford it on my own.

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8. Some of the pictures you shot for TOTEM with the bags hanging on the model's head are interesting and almost reminds us of the Moroccan way of dressing. Was this how you intended?

Not as a way of dressing, but as way of transporting goods, I remember as a kid, when we used to live in the village of Igmir, my mother would be gone for the whole day to collect Argan fruits and come back with a big full basket, with the bag handles around her head and supported by her back, same thing women would do when they go get fresh water from the source, this os what people do when they can’t afford a donkey.”

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Check out more of Abdela's Work here:

Instagram: @igmirien