Casablanca: A City Nothing Like the Film

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Casablanca: A City Nothing Like the Film

Credit Yoriyas Yassine Alaoui Ismaili

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This week Lens is featuring photographers from around the world who have been chosen to attend the fifth annual New York Portfolio Review.

For most of his life, Yassine Alaoui Ismaili didn’t know anything about street photography. But he knew a lot about the street.

That education began in his teenage years while pursuing an earlier passion— break dancing. In the Hay Moulay Rachid neighborhood of Casablanca, Morocco, where he first learned to dance, Mr. Alaoui Ismaili (who is also known as Yoriyas) spent hours every day spinning and flipping with his crew, Lhiba Kingzoo. In the process, he became an expert observer of the particular rhythms of street life.

New York Portfolio Review Highlights

A special feature this week of photographers from around the world who have been chosen to attend the fifth annual New York portfolio review.

But Mr. Alaoui Ismaili, 32, didn’t think to pick up a camera until 2007, when his crew was invited to an international competition in Salzburg, Austria. He bought a three-megapixel compact camera at a flea market so he could share his travels with his family.

“It was just a feeling,” he said. “I didn’t know about the technical stuff.”

Mr. Alaoui Ismaili began to realize he had a talent for photography only in 2011, when Guy Thimel, a photography teacher at the arts school where he taught break dancing, saw his work and encouraged him to explore the medium seriously. Buoyed by the support, Mr. Alaoui Ismaili started taking photos everywhere, until one day, in Marseille, France, he met the photographer Yves Vernin on the street. Their conversation helped him sharpen his eye.


Route Azemmour. Casablanca, 2014.Credit Yoriyas Yassine Alaoui Ismaili

“He showed me some masters of street photography like Alex Webb and Henri Cartier-Bresson and people like that I didn’t know before,” he said. “In that moment I said that what I want to do is only this — street photography. Not architecture anymore, not trees. I just want to photograph people.”

The result of that passion is a series he’s been working on since 2014, “Casablanca Not the Movie.” It’s both a love letter to the city he calls home, and an effort to correct the visual record for those whose exposure to Morocco’s famous city is limited to guide book snapshots or Orientalist fantasies. Photographing in neighborhoods far from the tourist hubs, where Mr. Alaoui Ismaili often wanders with his camera, can be a challenge. Residents are not used to seeing photographers, he said, and eye him with suspicion.


Mosque Hassan 2. Casablanca, 2014.Credit Yoriyas Yassine Alaoui Ismaili

But transcending fear, he said, is the only way to show an authentic view of the city, and in his series, Mr. Alaoui Ismaili has…

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