After almost five months of trying to get the ever-elusive Cheb Moha to answer his emails (seriously - we have a whole thread of tear-stained correspondence to prove it), we’re pleased to bring you our interview with Dubai’s most eclectic film aficionado. A street photographer, fashion designer, and would-be-rapper, Cheb Moha’s interests are as vast, varied, and difficult to pin down as the man himself.
Gulf Photo Plus: For all us novices in the crowd, can you explain how you got your moniker, “Cheb Moha”?
Cheb Moha: Cheb is a prefix, kind of like "lil" or "young" - words that rappers put in front of their names! Haha. It was when I went to Paris in 2013 that the name came to life - before coming to Dubai. Also, the prefix “cheb” is associated with artists that make rai music in North Africa. A majority of them place “cheb” before their first name.
GPP: Do you harbor secret ambitions of becoming a rapper? Please say “yes”!
CM: Yes, actually, I do have ambitions of becoming a rapper. Mixtape coming soon.
GPP: We’ll be waiting! But, Moha, you’re Baghdad-born and Libya/Canada-raised - how on earth did you end up in Dubai?
CM: I ended up in Dubai after booking a one-way ticket to Kuwait 3 years ago. I was collaborating with my friends there from supersoulxxx (a clothing line) on hats and hoodies and such. I was supposed to ship over the merchandise from Canada, but instead, I decided to bring it with me. I knew that I wanted to be in the region, and I have been in and out of Dubai since.
GPP: Did you intend to stay here when you first booked that flight?
CM: I booked a one-way and didn’t really think about what I was going to do; I just knew I wanted to be here, even though I told my mom I’d be back in two weeks… it's been over 3 years now!
GPP: How did you get started in photography?
CM: I was always into it, but it was just casual growing up. It became more of a serious thing as I came to this side of the world. I felt the need to document things, and that turned into styling and taking photos of people I’ve met and befriended. I created a moodboard that I feel expresses my experiences and encounters.
GPP: What inspired you to shoot analog photography?
CM: I started out shooting digital and shortly shifted to analog. I got my first analog camera here in Deira. The thrill of going around looking for a camera and finding film - I liked that sort of adventure. Also, at that time, the colors and the whole process and idea of analog photography interested me. I researched a lot before actually starting to shoot analog.
GPP: You mentioned that photography was a way for you to document things around you - do you take photographs for yourself or for other people?
CM: I take photos for myself. Most of my work is quite personal. But if it's for others, then it's either a collaborative thing or a commissioned job. I usually work on commissioned work if I feel it fits my identity. I am still figuring out how to balance both aspects of shooting.
GPP: A lot of your personal work seems to focus on youth and street culture in Dubai and throughout the Gulf region. Is that intentional?
CM: To be honest, it just happens to be that way. I feel like it’s what I gravitated towards, and what I am a part of. It’s real to me, and I am a part of it in a way.
GPP: Are you currently working on any projects, or do you focus more on the creation of single images?
CM: To me, photography isn't project-based yet, because I am constantly documenting things and coming up with ideas or concepts that I want to show through photography. The most recent project I worked on was a campaign for Carhartt in the Middle East that me and Chindy shot together in Kuwait. Chindy is a friend of mine, and we work together a lot for shoots and designs. Also, we just designed the space for Cinema Akil in Alserkal Avenue; we collaborated on the art direction and decoration of the space.
GPP: What inspires your photography, and where do you want it to go?
CM: I want to go as far as photography can take me. It’s an opportunity for me to show beautiful images from this region and share them with the world. My childhood and being here inspire me.
GPP: Rumor has it you’re not only a photographer, but that you also still design some pretty sweet streetwear?
CM: Oh, yes! A few friends and I are working on shabab! Soon more will be available - more clothes, more pop-ups, more events - for now, that’s all I’ll say. Haha! We did a few pop-ups here in Alserkal Avenue at Satellite. It was fun, there was good turnout, and lots of good feedback. So we will continue, inshallah.
CM: I think my social media is a good reflection of who I am, but perhaps that’s through all the curated images and all that. I always want to strive for good for me and the people around me and those who support me.
Follow Cheb Moha's work on Instagram here.
Follow Cheb Moha's work on Tumblr here.