Nabil Sabio Azadi is an artist to watch, simply because at a young age, he has a passion and insight that many of us struggle a lifetime to possess. From his home in New Zealand to Australia, Nabil traversed Europe, spent time in London and Paris before indulging in a brief stint in New York City, before deciding to settle for a quieter life in Wooloowin, Australia. With no formal training in his art, Nabil’s photos betray a ferocious intensity, a sort of imperfect perfection where stories and emotions are the primary focus of his roving lens. Moving, sometimes dark, occasionally irreverent, Nabil’s work at once keeps you at arms length with its ambiguos murky textures, while at the same time inviting you into the artist’s inner sanctum, offering a candid glimpse into a mind almost exploding the contradictions of love and desire, power and fragility.
Portable: When and why did you start taking pictures? What is it about photography that compels you?
Nabil Sabio Azadi: I was about fourteen years old when I started taking photographs but I really have no memory of what made me do it. I know my sense of sight was pretty sleepy and inattentive until that age. I grew up in New Zealand and visually it’s a very proportionate place—you know, in a landscape every form is simple and monumental, kind of correctly sized and spaced. As a kid I think that kind of beauty really lets you zone out. Watching New Zealand flash past through the car window quietens the mind. I guess I am chasing after that feeling. I get a lot of satisfaction out of my work when it is straightforward and proportionate and only gives people a few details at a time.
P: You’ve branched out into installation work too—what do you get from the medium that you don’t get from photography? And where is the synergy between the two art forms?
Nabil Sabio Azadi: I like that there is nothing abstract about it. You have got to have a specific intention for every inch of concrete or wood or whatever it is so there is a real sense of responsibility. Where photography can teach you to be watchful and appreciative of what happens naturally, building things can teach you how to be deliberate.
P: There’s a restlessness in your work—with what eyes do you look through your lens?
Nabil Sabio Azadi: Yeah, you would have seen me in the middle of my restlessness while I was in New York. The last few years have felt like a very miscalculated mystic pursuit. I was moving around too much and asking a lot of myself and I don’t think anything amplifies a sense of unease like being homeless. I recently moved to Australia and in doing so I kind of committed to getting a grip. In the end I have discovered that I am not a little Tyler Brûlé in waiting—I like utes [utility trucks], having a lot of space, my dog and not having to deal with much bullshit.
P: Where do you find inspiration for your work? What level of spontaneity is involved in your shoots, or are they well planned?
Nabil Sabio Azadi: I focus on how to provide the right circumstances and leave it at that since generally enough strange and moving things happen of their own accord. In terms of inspiration, I find it often in nature. I find it in giving people a sense of solidarity with my work. My partner and I are rebuilding part of our house at the moment and that also gets me excited.
P: Is there a difference for you say, taking photos at fashion week compared to photos you’ve taken in India or of your loved ones? What differs in the physical and emotional process?
Nabil Sabio Azadi: I don’t feel a distinction when I take the photographs. I am actually a little dubious of what credibility my interaction with the fashion industry has given me. That said, I am very grateful to those clothing designers with whom I have collaborated. They have all been exceptionally sincere people who have taught me a lot about how to approach work often and light-heartedly.