Mustafah Abdulaziz: “Water”

Winner 2019: Mustafah Abdulaziz

Mustafah Abdulaziz’s approach to his monumental series is his way of processing his understanding of water as a universal theme. For over eight years now he has been travelling the world, searching for metaphorical or striking images that capture the significance that water can have. When considering the work involved in the series, Abdulaziz offers a glimpse into his particular way of thinking and how the project came about.

“‘Water’ is a long-term photographic project about how human beings interact with the natural world and what this means for our civilization and our future. In this sense, it is my first endeavour of such magnitude. My visual approach to the work on ‘Water’ could be distilled down to naturalism and simplicity in perspective and scale. I’m incredibly wary of unnecessary complexity and try to limit the tools I use in order to come up with creative, and what I believe to be honest, methods for observing a topic that spans every aspect of human experience.”

“This project is my way of exploring the world.”

“What this means in practical terms, is that what matters most to me is to have and believe in a personal ethos that I express in the way I visualize things. What distance from a subject do I feel is comfortable for me and for them, and why? When does my photography portray what is essentially necessary to what is happening, and when does it fail? Photographs inherently have the potential for great beauty, and this is also something I am cautious about. It must be balanced with something else, something meaningful in terms of concept and presence, otherwise I don’t believe in it; and if I don’t believe in it, I can’t expect a viewer to either. When it comes to the photos in ‘Water’, this means that I am constantly assessing and reassessing each and every part of my visual approach. It must be an on-going and organic process of discovery. It has to fail at times, because failure during experimentation brings me liberation; it illuminates new paths for me, that I would otherwise never follow.

I do not stage people, and the reasons for this are twofold: the first is quite simply that I’m just not very good at it; the second is that it doesn’t fit with the way I see. I want to observe, to participate in people’s lives as myself, as a person and not as a photographer. The camera and this reality I photograph are rather ancillary. My pictures evolve from a certain rhythm or dance. I don’t know how to photograph any other way. ‘Water’ is different for perhaps one critical reason, and that reason is choice. This project is my way of exploring the world, of participating in a relevant and responsible way. It is a way to give meaning to an overwhelmingly large but critically important topic. I choose to do this work not only because it brings me great fulfilment, but because it is necessary. Our relationship with the planet may just be the most important story of our times.”

Mustafah Abdulaziz

Born 1986 in New York City, Abdulaziz began studying Journalism and Political Science but did not complete the studies. As a photographer he is self-taught. He moved to Berlin in 2011 after working as the first contract photographer for The Wall Street Journal. His long-term project, ‘Water’, which he has been pursuing for more than eight years, has received support from the United Nations, WaterAid, WWF, VSCO and Google. It has been published in Der Spiegel, The New Yorker, Time and The Guardian.

Portrait: © Philip Montgomery