Slowly getting there: a chat with Yaqine Hamzaoui

Slowly getting there: a chat with Yaqine Hamzaoui


The Brussels hip hop scene has yielded one of Belgium’s most promising new photographers.

The 24-year-old first made a name for herself in the music business, documenting key moments of the exciting new waves in the local hip hop scene. Back in November, she was crowned the country’s number one music photographer at the Red Bull Elektropedia Awards 2019; a surprise to many, but not all. Often, Yaqine can be found on the side of artists like Miss Angel, Zwangere Guy or Blu Samu – but as of late, the photographer has set her mind on breaking out of her comfort zone. We spoke to this versatile talent to discover the story behind her photographs.

“Of course it hasn’t been easy since the lockdown”, Yaqine says in our COVID-proof Skype call. “I still had a few shoots, but like most of my peers it’s still very much a rough time”. For independent creatives like her, the sudden disappearance of any outlook on freelance work was a painful realization. As the country was slowly finding a fragile balance again, smalltime offers started trickling in, only to be cancelled again once the second wave rolled by. Luckily, she remains positive. “The upside is that I’ve had a lot of time to spend creatively. There’s zero pressure, so no one is looking over your shoulder. In practice, I’ve been brainstorming, testing out new ideas, etc. Perhaps I needed that long moment of freedom more than I realized".

Yaqine’s adventure into photography began when she landed a student gig at BRONKS, a youth theatre organization in the centre of Brussels. “That’s where I first discovered my interest in capturing artists on stage and backstage”, she explains. Not much later, she would visit 54kolaktiv’s legendary spontaneous Free 54 open mic sessions at Place Saint Catherine. “It was a simple affair. Gorik (Zwangere Guy, ed.) just arranged one mic and a speaker. Everybody used to come down to showcase their latest bars: the STIKSTOF crew, Jay MNG, Berry, Krimi and many more”.

It’s during these sessions that Yaqine really honed her skills. “I was always lurking in the corner, capturing the vibe and sending the results to the artists afterwards”. Those first shoots must have convinced a few people, because Freestyle O, a more official event that combined dance-offs with MC battles, asked the young photographer to document their events regularly. "I was there at the right moments – and I got to meet a lot of creative artists because of this. That's when my love for the craft took off".

This fly-on-the-wall approach is probably one of Yaqine's strongest assets. "I'm great with making people feel at ease around me. I'm more of an observer than someone who directs the scene. If I could choose, I'd just follow my subjects around all day; I want to leave people be, you know? A mutual understanding between me and the subject is crucial before I start. Trust guarantees the best results”.

She seems very picky about who she works with – and that seems to lead to great results. "I'm always so curious about some people. I often find myself asking "what would a collaboration between this person and me look like"? It's an automatic thought reflex I have whenever I meet someone new. Sometimes I get really confident, and I'll know that we will work together someday".

Other than her observing yet bold approach, Yaqine's work is characterized by her abundant use of saturation. Since she mostly captures spontaneous moments, colour is one of the few things that allow her to modify real moments. "Colour allows me to let my imagination run free – I can go all the way with it", she explains. "It's probably my most distinguishable feature, and it's something I want to develop more in the future".

For a long time, most didn't pay much attention to Yaqine, but slowly, she started receiving positive feedback from the right people. “Next thing, I got my first enquiries for shoots – and that’s how it started really. I was delighted, and it gave me a boost to further develop my photography”.

This culminated in a busy 2019, a real breakout year for her. Vice selected her (out of hundreds of applicants) to showcase her work at Listen Festival, and she won the gold medal as Best Music Photographer at the Red Bull Elektropedia Awards. All of a sudden, everyone wanted to know more about this enigmatic photographer and her raw style.

Recently, Yaqine did a shoot with music producer Ashley Morgan, which left a big impression on her. "I've made him open up to me in ways I've never seen him do before, completely out of his comfort zone. The results were amazing, so that made me really proud of myself. Just me and the artist, that's how I want to work".

When we asked her which artists she looks up to, she picks Tyler, The Creator. "Not necessarily because of his music, but because of the world he created around his brand. Everyone might see me as a photographer, but I want to do a whole lot more than that: video, design, fashion, and so on. A few days ago, I made a drawing, and I thought to myself "this would look amazing on a carpet" – so I wouldn't mind venturing into carpet design too". Previously, Yaqine directed music videos for her peers like Miss Angel, Roedel, Soul’art, Jazzy Bench, Martha Da’ro and IKRAAAN. This year however, she directed her first big music video, for blackwave.’s ‘Arp299’. "I loved working with such a big team – I learned a lot of new things – but if I'm honest, I prefer working in small groups. Keeping the team manageable allows you to move faster and more freely".

Despite her strong links with the music scene, Yaqine is wary of pigeonholing herself as an ‘event photographer’. “It was never my intention just to cover live concerts. I want to capture pure and spontaneous moments – and rappers and performers were just the most convenient subjects at hand”. If the opportunity presents itself, she would love to venture into other realms of the world of photography. “I'm at the moment in my career now where I need to decide what direction I want to commit to”, she explains. I’d love to do more collaborations with brands and fashion clients, slowly building a portfolio that’s more than just artist portraits and whatnot. Then again, this is just the beginning of my career, and my interests shift so frequently, so I’m just following my intuition and see where it takes me”.

So far, the income from these artist-centric shoots has been just enough to sustain a modest living. Still, if the current times have taught independent creatives anything, it's that the financial organization of your business is vital. Yaqine realizes she needs to expand her portfolio towards other markets if she wants to take her career to the next level. “Like many other artists, this is not my strongest asset. I need to know where I am, what I need to do and what I’m entitled to. If you take your own business more seriously, clients will take you more seriously in return, you know”. Maybe Belgium might not even be the ideal place for that. “Belgium is small, so it’s not easy – but the upside of that small size is that connections can take you a long way. Don’t get me wrong, the hustle is hard – but I believe it’s more plausible to make a decent living with work from international clients”.

To reach that stage, Yaqine has set her mind on one main goal for the coming months, the publication of her first book. “This has been on my to-do list for a very long time – but now I finally do something about it”. As her first steps into a promising career have already yielded impressive results, it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world will hear about Yaqine too.

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