Nadi Hammouda – Look At Me

by Lauren Festa

Back in 2008 when Finland-based photographer Nadi Hammouda bought an old Nikon FG film camera from his co-worker, he had no interest in photography. Sure, it was odd, but he “bought it just for fun.” It may also be that Nadi was trying to hold onto the memories of his grandfather who, when he was alive, shot with his own Nikon for a local newspaper. “My [grandfather] passed away long before I took up photography. I wonder what he would have thought of my work,” Nadi wonders.

When he took up photography and the camera, Nadi tells us, he may have just as easily taken his own life instead. He was in the depths of personal hell.

“I took the camera for a bicycle ride across town a few times for some five hours. Didn’t even take one shot, but it eased my mind somehow. It was expensive and hard to practice photography with a film camera, and by August 2009 I was so very ready to end my life, with all the depression and panic attacks and everything. I needed to make a decision, either do something or do something.”

So he did. Nadi bought a Nikon D3000, and started doing the bicycle trips again.

“It was easier. I shot everything. My cats, still life, flowers, everything. I got sucked in more and more. It was November 2009 when I had my first model shoot in a studio. It was a small rental studio in Helsinki. Had the lights and everything. It was so fucking cool to put the radio transmitter on the hot shoe. I felt like a pro! This girl came in. I had ideas ready and a make-up artist. I had learned about studio techniques on Youtube. As we shot for a few hours, me directing her with posing and everything, it felt so natural to me. Like I’d done it since the day I was born. And then it hit me. Hard. Like a sledge hammer. This is who I am. A photographer. And that camera had saved my life.”

Nadi wasn’t always the humble, self-reflecting man he is today. For a long time, 20 years in fact, he thought he was a rock star. “I was a cocky fuckin’ asshole who knew how good he was and looked down on everything and everyone. The biggest fuckin’ mistake. I burned myself out. I worked a lot of different jobs. Construction work, as a carpenter in a theater, you know, just to pay the bills.” The pressure caught up with him when things weren’t panning out. Panic attacks. Medication. Depression. This tumultuous time in Nadi’s life nearly destroyed him. He couldn’t have what he wanted, or what he thought he deserved. “It’s bullshit. Music. It’s not about talent. It’s business. And that is something I’m not. A business man.”

Imagining a frustrated young man finally coming to terms with life’s realities makes the purchase of a camera and that aimless bike ride a turning point in Nadi’s life. Do something or do something. The statement reflects a searing energy in his impulsive personality, an energy that transcends his photographs. A beautiful fury.

In my mind

there is no time.

Browsing through the never ending stream of photo pollution, at times I wish I was more boring.

But I can’t.

I can’t let myself take the easy shots and get on with it.

And that sometimes makes me hate my style n how I see things.

Am I pushing it too hard or just being honest?

I’m still at the very beginning of my journey as a photographer. I must remind myself about that fact time and again.

After three years of intense shooting and practicing I have mastered the techniques at least.

But everyone can do the same.

It’s about the Vision.

And that’s when the bipolarmanicdepressionwhateverblues roller coaster ride begins.

Take it as a strength.

“I think there is certain intensity to my work” he says. “My passion for photography reflects from my subjects, and back to the viewer. Post-processing is a distinctive trademark. Fact is, anybody could master this photography by learnin’ and working hard. It’s about the photographer in the end; how you are as a person, and what you can give to your subjects. And that is where I stand out: I care.”

This must be true, because it’s certainly not his equipment, which he admits is “total shit”: an out-of-production, Nikon D90, held together with Gaffer tape and a four-year-old PC ready to explode, to be precise. “I see people taking photos with them iPhones that I go crazy jealous of. Why can’t I do that with Photoshop and fancy studio lights? I would like to dabble with film more for fun but, no time or money. Maybe someday… [but] if the photo is great and touches you, who cares about the format? I know my gear and make the shit happen. Even when I feel like I fail myself – an everyday thing in photography –  that is one thing that keeps you grounded. No matter what your plans, the team you have, models and everything, anything can go tits up at any given time. That’s why mastering the techniques and knowing your gear inside out helps you survive such occasions. I guess that’s the whole idea. Get the job done.”

Nadi remembers his first photo. “It was of a cow.” Since then he’s graduated to greener pastures, namely women, his favorite thing to shoot, especially his own woman, who only recently let Nadi take photos of her topless (“which is awesome!” he adds.) But he’s not interested in “just shooting parts. I like the face and eyes. They can tell a story in so many ways, and I love stories. A beautiful woman is always beautiful. And how they carry themselves. It doesn’t matter where she’s from, or what color or anything boring like that. I think the intellectual woman is always beautiful, no matter the dress size or whatever. I’m on a mission to elevate the beauty and strength in women.”

“I love what I get to do and I can do what I want. I just love every aspect of [photography]. And the times when I see the images that are in my head on the back of the camera for the first time. It’s fun. It captures memories. It documents life. For me it’s a tool to express myself creatively and to touch other people. At times I say that I have 20 years worth of built-up inspiration in me. All the things I’ve read, seen, heard. Whatever it may be. My models inspire me the most. When I’m doin’ my personal work, I write the stories specifically to that model. Because of her looks, energy or whatever it may be. It’s always personal. I title my blog entries and my stories from song lyrics. Again it might be something personal to the model or me. It might go with the theme of the shoot. But it always needs to be a bit intelligent and it needs to have layers. The title, the story, the photos and how the viewer interprets all in the end.”

While Nadi shoots the physical, when you’ve come to know his story, you start to look past “just parts,” as he says, and begin to see the subject’s story underneath. Because everybody has a story. Nadi captures those, whose stories say, ‘look at me’. According to the thoughtful photographer, this is only natural. “That’s what a photo should say,” says Nadi. “Look at me.”

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