Playlist: Mustafah Abdulaziz

Mustafah Abdulaziz is the photographer behind the Water project. For us he put his camera aside and created an amazing playlist

Playing dinner partner bingo is oftentimes a risky endeavor. You never know what fate will bring, so you’ll cross your fingers and hope to end up with a nice person seated next to you. At a recent launch event by Google, where the new “Pixel” phone was presented to a selected group of people, I was lucky, though: Mustafah Abdulaziz sat at my right hand.

Mustafah Abdulaziz is a photographer from Brooklyn who had nine photographs on the ground floor of the Galerie Johann König space which he had taken in Iceland. He had already traveled to 10 of 32 total countries for his project Water, which he started in 2011 and shot with a Mamiya 7II camera – the whole project is shot on medium format 6×7 film – which he handled like a talisman. Described in his own words:

Water is a multi-year, global project on the resource, examining man’s relationship with the natural world. The work started in 2011 and will continue to 2026, spans themes as literal as access to water to recreation, industrialization, pollution, climate change and so on. The work is medium format film, making the project’s creation methodical and slow. The country list is extensive: Somalia, India, China, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Brazil, and the USA. The funders are diverse, from the United Nations to WWF, VSCO, WaterAid and as of recently with the new work from Iceland, now Google.

On the evening in question, he didn’t want to talk about it anymore – I got the information from him the day after. I’m really impressed. The worldwide handling of water is, in his opinion, not sustainable enough. He wants to make people aware of this with his multi-year project and to rightly get more awards and attention for it. From the 12th of November until the 30th of January, his current works from California will be on show at the National Geographic Museum. A long-term endeavor with an eye on the future – for now the timeframe is set for 15 years, the ending of course only really making sense when all the stations and individual current situations that meet Mustafah’s criteria have been documented. About his own work, he says: “I disagree with the popular idea held by photojournalism in general that it’s their responsibility to evoke change. What I’m doing is creating a singular perspective on what it means to interact with our environment in the way we are doing.”

Born in New York, now he finds the space he needs to work in Berlin, where he’s lived for five years. His studio on Ritterstraße, which he shares with his friend and fellow photographer Daniel Flaschar, is in a new building next to the Louis Pretty restaurant in Kreuzberg. In some way, I had a good instinct to throw a closer look towards his music expertise. And look here: in fact, some favorite songs find themselves on the playlist he put together for us (Angeles by Elliot Smith”). He explains the selection like this:

“It’s called Did You Know I Liked These Songs? and it’s kinda odd. It starts with some really beautiful yearning through the first third – stuff from road trips across America and late nights and relationships and melodramatic reflections. Then it hits this instrumental bridge and switches into a bit of funk and soul before I ruin it again with three super ‘80s-sounding songs that I love right now. Then I finish on a live version of my favorite song of all time. This was supposed to be like 15 songs right? Shit. I did 21.”

When he goes home to visit New York and sees his friend Phil, he’s reminded without any problems of “pop done by women”, which includes for example Sorry by Beyoncé or On My Own by Robyn. The playlists that he gets from him bring the most joy. Everything considered, it’s more bands and musicians like Bruce Springsteen, Brandon Flowers (“hugely underrated”), or the all time favorite and classic, Joy Division, that Mustafah loves. And that rounds out a picture of him. “Are you equally as melancholic and romantic?” he asked me once in a conversation after I heard his music for the first time. And at the end of the day, that’s really what he’s all about as he said in an interview with Freunde von Freunden: “It’s work that focuses on the subjects I’m most passionate about. I know now that in order to make someone else feel something, I have to feel it first.”

And in that moment I understood everything and saw his photos from a different perspective.

For more information about his “Water” project visit the website of Mustafah Abdulaziz or the Lens Blog of the New York Times.

 

TRANSLATION: MELISSA FROST
©Alex de Brabant

Julia co-founded one of the first fashion blogs in Germany in 2007 and became a freelance consultant for digital strategies after publishing her first book in 2010. After an eventful four years with Condé Nast working mainly in the digital department of Vogue Germany, she decided to launch her own online magazine with her dream partner, Veronika Heilbrunner. She is based in Berlin and loves to read books.