art, Interviews

q&a with photographer toufic beyhum

toufic beyhum Born in Beirut, raised in London and residing in Namibia, creative director and photographer Toufic Beyhum is a passionate creative director and photographer. His latest project titled Amoji Masks features a series of portraits of people wearing African masks that resemble emojis used on smartphones all over the world. We chatted to Beyhum to find out about his photography and the Amoji Masks project. ALSO READ: Amoji Masks: Bringing Africa to the world

did you always want to be a photographer? if not, what did you want to be when you were growing up?

I come from a creative family. We are a family of poets, writers and artists so I suppose it rubbed off on me. My mother and father were also art collectors, so our house was always filled with beautiful things.

what is your earliest visual memory?

A very difficult question to answer, but the first artist that I loved as a teenager was Francis Bacon. I used to visit the Tate Britain in London quite often and walk around for hours, but I always sat down opposite the Three studies for figures at the base of Crucifixion and sketched them.

what does a typical day in your life like look like?

A typical day in my life is all about juggling advertising briefs and family. I am creative director of Advantage Y&R in Namibia, that has been my day job since I arrived here from London two years ago. My photography is my side passion. I believe every creative in the ad industry needs to have a passion other than advertising. I always encourage my juniors to do something creative outside the studio. In between advertising, I will squeeze in photography projects whenever I can, whether it's at lunchtime, early morning or in between meetings. I try to always come up with photo projects that fit in my environment.

how did you come up with the concept for the AMOJI series?

Since moving to Namibia two years ago, I've watched Namibians get more and more connected and shift to smartphones, including myself. In London I had a Blackberry and I never used Whatsapp, I only got a smart phone when I moved to Africa as everyone here prefers to communicate via Whatsapp. I have groups for absolutely everything. I was walking around the craft market one day looking at African masks (as I collect masks myself). Most of my masks are from Papua New Guinea, and I thought it would be fun to create emojis that look like African masks. That’s when I started researching masks and spoke to two young Namibian artists to help me create the vision I had in my head. I chose the seven most popular emojis and we worked on these masks for about half a year.

what was the reaction of people when you were photographing the models in the Amoji masks?

They loved them. Everyone knew exactly what they were - which is scary in a way. I got everyone to choose their own emoji when I photographed them, so the emotions you see in the photos is something they chose.

which place should every serious art and photography lover visit?

I have a huge list and it really depends on what people are into but for me my favourite places are: V&A in London Tate Britain in London Unseen photo fair in Amsterdam Gezira Centre for modern art in Cairo C/O Berlin Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC

do you have special ‘favourites’ among the places you have shot?

Every place is special to me, I can’t say I have a favourite but I must say Namibia has beautiful light for shooting. Golden hours here really are golden. To see more of Beyhum’s work visit and follow him on Instagram