by SALIM AL AFIFI
Amr Ali has been an iconic figure and brand in the fashion industry for over a decade, leaving a legacy full of inspired collections and thematic ensembles that stirred many memorable moments, worn by the likes of Madonna and Florence Welch. After leaving a mark on global runaways with BodyAmr, he decided to dive back into his true passion: creative direction, with a focus on interior design and photography. Salim Al Afifi catches up with the artist to talk about his latest work in the field of lensed art.
This is such a great pleasure!
Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be featured in your lifestyle magazine; I appreciate this opportunity to showcase my work to my friends, family and fellow Omanis.
Our readers are dying to know when you started your career in photography and how did it come about?
Photography and the art of image-making have always been interesting to me; the ability for an image to create an emotion and move a viewer through a narrative or simply through aesthetics is something that has always fascinated me. I picked up a camera early on in my childhood through the guidance of my father who was and still is a keen photographer and collector of contemporary photography. Growing up, I have photographed places that inspired me, and people that I admired, and I brought that passion into my work as a fashion designer by shooting campaigns and stories for the brand. From there, people began to ask me to shoot for their own brands, from jewellery to perfumes. I have also photographed many different types of people from boxers to street kids to royalty. And, my next project will be travelling around Oman for a few months capturing the beauty and landscape for an exciting beauty brand being launched in 2020. And I will also be flying to Chechnya to photograph Ramazan Kadirov, a body of work in which I look forward to submitting to the National Portrait Gallery in London next year..
What was it about photography that made you choose to pursue it instead of other types of fine art?
Photography is innate to me, so instinctive. Its the direction I choose to go with my own brand, plus I find it very pleasurable, where I shut the world out and just let the creative process take over, but as a creative director I work with a number of different art forms, from painting to sculpture to architecture and interiors.
You are a hybrid of Oman and Bahrain, how has that rich cultural background influenced your aesthetics as an artist?
Hugely. It has made me who I am. I’ve been very lucky from a young age to be exposed to a lot of different people, places, cultures, religions and backgrounds besides my own. I was born in London and lived between Vienna, New York, Gstaad, Moscow, and Muscat. I think that lifestyle alone had a huge influence on me, my work, my understanding of the world and where my purpose in it as well.
I have had the pleasure of exploring some of your photos that exhibit the beauty of Oman, quite compelling with its cultural nuances. Have you always been fascinated by the Omani culture and heritage?
I began my personal visual diary of Oman many years ago, documenting its phenomenal culture, people, traditions and architecture. I’m drawn to the incredible positive influence His Majesty Sultan Qaboos has had on our country. Omanis have benefitted enormously from his vision, and through documentation, observation and the use of my aesthetic, I am drawing together a collection of images for a limited numbered edition coffee table book to celebrate his legacy.
You’re also known as the Sultan of Style, and your brand has been dubbed as the fashion of tomorrow, how do you think being a fashion designer influences your eye as a photographer?
My work has a strong fashion influence, naturally, as my initial love for fashion came through fashion advertising in the ’90s, and I recall being 12 or 13 and moved by the amazing work of some of the greatest fashion photographers. Of course, at the time I didn’t know who they were, all I knew was that I became seduced by the power they had to move and impact me. I would rip them out of magazines and create mood boards on my bedroom wall, so powerful in their seduction and dangerously provocative. That impact has always remained part of my understanding and really formed the initial steps to my self-taught education in photography. So, to cut a long story short, it has a lot!
What are other common themes you enjoy experimenting with?
My work often looks at people through a lens of intrigue, this usually takes place in people’s own personal settings, which leads the viewers to feel they are looking into a ‘world behind closed doors’ and of course, I style and create sets, so fashion and interiors both play a defining roll in my signature look as they are two fields I have built my career on.
In the pool of artists, whose work are you rooting for at the moment?
There are so many talented artists who have a unique vision coming from Oman. I like the works of Abdulrahim Al Kendi, Tariq Al Hajri, Mahmood Al Zadjali, and Eman Ali. Their works are poetic, stylish and forward-thinking. I support and wish success to all inspiring artists carving out their own unique identity and showcasing their personal vision, and in turn, promoting Oman on a global platform. AMR Studio, my design agency, also collects works from upcoming and established artists, and advises clients on art curation and building their collections.
You have worked with global acts and celebrities throughout your fashion career, who would you love to work with now as a photographer?
His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, of course. My dream is to work with Oman, my homeland, and help build a global vision of the country through different forms of artistic expression. My book on Oman will act as a starting point; a journey through its land, culture and people. I want to translate this rich culture into an international language, so it can be truly appreciated in an authentic fashion. A sleek, modern vision of our homeland, a book that would comfortably sit with the best coffee table books out there.
Will fashion photography become an interest in the future or you would prefer to explore other genres?
Fashion photography formed a primary step in my evolution, so it will always be part of my signature style. However, having explored so many other genres and industries, I would like to keep moving and be known for my artistic vision across all fields. I’m constantly developing and refining my signature, no matter if this is done in a photograph I have taken, a building I have designed, or a product that I have helped bring to market.
We are excited to see your future projects. What is Amr Ali working on at the moment?
AMR Studio has several London property developments on-going, as well as a chalet in Beirut, a double lateral penthouse in Moscow, interiors for a new building in Muscat, image-making and brand building for a beauty and skincare brand, and of course my book. Our furniture line launches in Paris this year, so I am visiting our factories in Singapore to check on the prototypes and finishes. I’m very excited to introduce this lifestyle to the world of interiors.