Interview: Youssef Nassar

Youssef Nassar is a critically acclaimed Lebanese born Canadian artist who is known for his unconventional work in photography and film making. Raised in a family that encouraged his interest in the art of film, Youssef entered the field of Radio/TV studies at Notre Dame University, where his passion for photography and film making blossomed.

Youssef Nassar has been noted for his radical approach in art, escaping from the mainstream “cliché” and repetitions to highlight sexuality, violence and macabre.

Being a guitarist himself, Youssef intertwined his love for film and photography with music; with his work being greatly inspired by songs. When asked, Youssef’s leading inspiration came from the Grammy award nominated musician Steven Wilson, the prolific solo artist and lead singer/guitarist of progressive rock band Porcupine Tree.

Youssef’s film ‘The Exhibition’ featured Steven Wilson’s ‘The Raven That Refused To Sing’. When Wilson saw the film after granting Youssef the necessary copyrights, he was impressed and later asked Youssef to direct a video for the song “Perfect Life” taken from his album “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” released in 2015. The video, released in February 2015, was lauded for it’s beautiful, warm colour palette and dream-like imagery.

Youssef has also worked with many local bands and also been a part of many photography exhibitions and digital screenings of his work.

I stumbled on Youssef’s work through his collaboration with Steven Wilson (my favorite musician) and thought why not contact him and send him some questions. 

YNHey Youssef! How is it going? Would you kindly tell us a little bit about yourself: where are you from, what got you interested in filmmaking and photography?
Hello Sami, I’m fine thank you. I’m Lebanese/Canadian, raised in Beirut, studied filmmaking and been working in the field of film and photography for 6 years now. I’m 25 today.

In my opinion, Lebanon is a tough place for artists, where there is little support, if any, from family and friends. How was it for you starting up?
I still find it, until today, struggling to work in this field in Lebanon, and I don’t mean financially speaking, but artistically speaking, at least in my genre and style of visuals. Facebook did help a lot at first for work recognition, people started enjoying my work and it actually gives a certain push to do more.
Gartloch, Scotland
I am Lebanese who was born and raised in the midst of our 25-year civil war. I didn’t know how much the war affected me until I left Beirut. I realized that my life was one of survival and felt like I missed out on a lot of things including my passion for art. My question to you is, did the war have an effect on you, and are the dark themes in your works a reflection on what you went through?
I was born in 1990 so I didn’t really live the civil war but of course it has affected on everyone living here. You don’t have to see it but it’s here. But to answer your question, my work is mostly affected by the music I listen to, which isn’t dark by the way but more melancholic. My older work used to be quite dark I must say. The content in general and not the lighting itself.

Steven WilsonI think, we both share the same taste in Progressive music, and was wondering if music is an integral part of your creative process or just background noise.
Music is everything in my life. Literally. I wake up and sleep to music. And Steven Wilson in general is the inspiration behind my work.

Has your style developed throughout the years?
It’s more mature I have to say. I was and still interested in the same style but it’s definitely more mature.

Your work on the video ‘Perfect Life’ by Steven Wilson was my introduction to your works, as I was pleasantly surprised to learn a fellow Lebanese collaborated with my Idol Steven Wilson. My question to you is, how did this collaboration came about, and what did you learn from working with a genius like Steven Wilson?
I’ve been listening and following Steven’s music for years now and he’s been my idol since that time. I was working on my first short film ‘The Exhibition’, I needed his music to be the soundtrack in my film and I have to get the copyrights for it. So I went to London once I knew he’s going to have a signing session for his album “The Raven That Refused To Sing” so I could meet him and I did. This is when I got the chance to know him better and showed him a bit of my work, I had some Ravens artworks prepared for him and he really loved them. So after answering back and forth in emails, discussing the song and checking the script, he agreed and the film was done, I sent it back to him and he loved it. Since that time, I ended up directing and shooting two music videos for him; ‘Perfect Life’ and ‘Happy Returns’ (HP is not released yet, been showing on the tour)

Any new collaborations with Steven Wilson in the pipeline?
There will be definitely. 

Has working with Steven Wilson opened a lot doors for you and provided you with opportunities to work with some other idols of yours? Please name a few if possible.
Yes! There will be future collaborations with Steve Hackett, The pineapple thief, North Atlantic Oscillation and possibly Anathema. And I did another music video for a new cool band from the states called “The Receiver”. 

Krzysztof Czechowski.Your amazing work on the video ‘Normal’ by Porcupine Tree reminds me a lot of Lasse Hoile who is another collaborator of Steven Wilson. Are you influenced by Lasse’s works or this is just pure coincidence that I find both of your styles are so much alike?
I can’t watch this video anymore. Haha! I don’t regret it, I was 19 years old and I really loved it at the moment and yes I was definitely inspired by Lasse Hoile’s work back then. I love and respect Lasse a lot. My work is completely different now though.

What have been your most challenging and rewarding piece of work thus far?
Challenging and rewarding I have to say my short film ‘The Exhibition’ that led me to work with Steven Wilson, which is the biggest reward and challenge if it makes any sense.

What’s next for you? What collaborations or projects do you have planned?
My second short film that I’ve been working on for a while now with a close friend of mine Tony Eli. Hopefully the script should be ready in few days and then will start planning the pre-production phase. A huge collaboration will be happening on that film that’s for sure.
Where else can we find you? (blog, website, twitter, facebook, etc.)
I have my website which isn’t very updated but more of a portfolio thing, and my facebook page and my instagram account.

Any words of advice for aspiring new artists?

Thank you Youssef for your time in answering our questions. If you ever stateside, please do not hesitate to swing by.

Youssef Nassar

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