Each year, British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch – a group of emerging image-makers, chosen from hundreds of nominations by international experts. Collectively, they provide a window into where photography is heading, in the eyes of the curators, editors, agents, festival producers and photographers we invited to nominate. Throughout September, BJP-online is sharing their profiles, originally published in issue #7898 of the magazine.
Despite the claim that conversations regarding representation in photography are a contemporary revelation, the tension between observer and observed has been part and parcel of our medium for decades. In truth, the power dynamics at play between photographer and subject are regularly discussed throughout the scholarship and history of image-making, and most photographers are at some point exposed to the ethical quandaries that arise when, in order to make work, they find themselves travelling to look at people and places removed from their own experience. Even though we know these unbalanced relationships exist, there is a persistent effort to avoid tackling the issue head-on, subverting theories and legitimate criticism in order to preserve outdated modes of creating.
As someone who has lived in different parts of the world throughout his life, M’hammed Kilito understands the importance of familiarity with a place in order to successfully capture its nuance. Born in Russia and raised in Morocco, Kilito moved to Spain to study software engineering before moving to Canada to pursue a BA and MA in Politics. His love for art and photography started well before this educational path, but he honed his own practice while enrolled in photography classes and actively participating in the Montreal Photobook Club. After working at an advertising agency for three years following his graduation, he decided to return to Morocco, his home, to pursue a career in photography full-time.
As a ritual, each of Kilito’s projects begins with excessive research. In his series titled Destiny, Kilito tackles the veracity of social determinism in his country, where an individual’s social and economic fate is often directly informed by generational opportunity. The idea stemmed from Kilito’s childhood memories of a close friend who prematurely left school to support his family by becoming a butcher’s apprentice. The boy’s fate stood in stark contrast to Kilito’s ability to finish his schooling in Morocco, study in Canada, and dabble in various professional opportunities. The portraits in Destiny are accompanied by texts from Kilito’s collaborators, who detail their own stories and experiences alongside each photograph. “The text accompanying my images is very important,” he explains. “The purpose of the photographs can be communicated through their aesthetic, but in order for my audience to truly reflect on the concepts and perspectives, the text is essential. So much is misunderstood by the public.”
To maintain the integrity and truth of his subjects, Kilito favours long-term projects and submersion into theories that go beyond image-making. “Sometimes it takes me one year, and sometimes I get the feeling that a project isn’t done, so I have to go back and shoot it again.” The fact that he makes work about experiences in his own country allows him to take time with his images, revisiting them as necessary. In Among You, a project about Moroccan youth navigating the harsh reality of their country’s social and economic disregard for young people, Kilito addresses the contemporary construction of identity.
“It’s important to communicate how these young people express themselves and find their place in society, and to highlight what the consequences of living in these simultaneously oppressive and liberating structures have on their daily behaviour. I try to channel the stereotypes people have about Moroccans, and engage them in a reflection of how change has taken place.” The striking portraits are presented as diptychs, paired with intriguing shots of their surroundings, positing the country itself as a character in Kilito’s world alongside the people.
“Since its invention, photography has been an instrument of imperialism used by the white man to assert his superiority… it is important for me to enact a counter-discourse to what is usually shared in the media”
Kilito’s work has increasingly garnered more and more buzz, and his practice acts as an important example for the documentary arts, where the legacy of photographers entering spaces unknown to them continues to seep into contemporary practice. “Since its invention, photography has been an instrument of imperialism used by the white man to assert his superiority over our people to legitimise the civilising mission,” Kilito explains. “There are so many photographers in the Global South working to transcend preconceived notions of what our countries look like in order to reconstruct that narrative. It is very important for me to enact a counter-discourse to what is usually shared in the media.”
But for Kilito, this doesn’t mean creating a utopic, monolithic version of the realities that Moroccoans face. Instead, it’s about creating space for a multitude of perspectives. “I don’t want to suggest that everything is perfect in our countries, but it is our role to balance the narratives and show that we can photograph the humanist, courageous sides of our people as opposed to the sensationalist, orientalist views that we are accustomed to seeing.”