DISCOVER MONGOLIA IN THIS INTERVIEW WITH KHLIL LAMRABET, A YOUNG PHOTOGRAPHER WHO TRAVELLED TO THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT TO HAVE A TASTE OF NOMADIC LIFE
■ conducted by Bartosz Och | photos by Khalil Lamrabet
Born in Casablanca, Morocco, Khalil Lamrabet, aviation professional based in Dubai, has travelled to many places in the world. We became especially intrigued by one particular journey of his. For many, a journey to the ends of the world. Mongolia to this day remains vastly unexplored and unspoilt by tourism. Thanks for a friend of his, Khalil was able to immerse himself in the nomadic lives of the locals. An experience that allowed him not only to take these amazing photographs but to understand these people’s culture up-close and personally. Join us for this inspiring interview with Khalil Lamrabet and discover Mongolia through the lens of his camera.
Hi, Khalil! How long have you been photographing and when did your journey with photography begin?
I have been photographing for about six years now. The journey started earlier—can’t remember exactly—but I didn’t take it seriously back then. I started enjoying the craft when it started allowing me to communicate the way I see the world and documenting places I travel to.
How was it growing up in Morocco? Did it have a major influence on your photography?
I left Morocco at the age of 17, then moved to Canada, and after spending 10 years in Canada, I flew to Emirates. I have good memories from all these places. When it comes to photography, and particularly the subjects that I’m interested in, I think the major influence is the fact that I had the privilege of exposure to so many cultures. I’m still attracted by cultures that are different than mine, and I’m fascinated by them.
Judging by your portfolio, you seem to have travelled quite a bit already. What is your favourite place you have been to so far and why?
I don’t have a favourite place really. All the places I have visited had something special to offer and I enjoyed being in all of them. But I’m, in general, attracted to places that are off the beaten path. This is mainly due to the fact that we know so little about their culture.
What is your least favourite place and why?
I don’t have one really.
I would like to talk about Mongolia a little. What made you want to go there and how did you go about planning your trip? Where were you staying at?
Mongolia is one of these countries that we know so little about. Beside Genghis Khan and the Mongol empire, we don’t hear about the country much, we don’t know how they really live, how is it like to live a nomadic life. I wanted an answer to all these questions through a first-hand experience. Luckily one of my friends here in Dubai was Mongolian and with his help and one of his friends in Mongolia, we were able to get in touch with an authentic nomadic family that accepted to host me. So I stayed with them for a couple of days, slept in their yurt, ate their food, and communicated with them with hand gestures only. It was a memorable experience.
What is the best thing about Mongolia and what surprised you the most there? Do you have any recommendations or tips for anyone who would like to visit this part of the world?
I think there are many things to like about Mongolia. First, the weather is amazing. Also, they have very beautiful scenery and, most importantly, the people are so kind and welcoming. I have visited only a small part of Mongolia but I know that the country has so much to offer. My recommendation to anyone who is planning to visit is to read about the country, their culture, and history, first. Be simple and humble when interacting with the locals in the countryside, and if you want to tip anyone, gifts are generally more accepted than money. Otherwise, the capital Ulaanbaatar is well developed so you’ll find everything there.
How would you compare Mongolia and people who live there to the rest of the world? Any major differences?
I think there are a lot of differences from a cultural perspective, and this is normal. But what’s amazing is that humanity values are universal and this is the common ground I always find whenever I visit any new country that may seem different.
How do you approach people you want to photograph? Do you simply take their picture or do you ask for their permission first? What’s people’s general response?
I generally don’t ask for permission. I just take the picture and smile. Sometimes I show them the pictures if they are intrigued, and sometimes I don’t if they are indifferent. I think by asking you loose the spontaneity and candidness. When I’m documenting something, generally my presence is known. When I’m doing street photography, I try to be as discreet and quick as possible.
People’s response is generally positive as long as you don’t look suspicious. I think being comfortable with that and showing it helps.
How do you like to travel? What’s your main motivator and how do you prepare for a trip?
As I said before, what motivates me to travel is the discovery of new cultures. I like living other people’s lives and experiencing what they go through in their typical day. This brings me a lot of satisfaction as it continues to improve my cultural awareness to better understand our differences. I generally try to find a family to host my stay—that’s the best way to absorb new cultures in my opinion. Generally via the internet. If not possible, I plan my itinerary around places that are less touristy focusing on the experience rather than monuments and places.
If you could go anywhere in the world and take only one thing with you, where would you go and what would you bring?
I haven’t been to the sub-Saharan Africa, yet. So I’d love to go to any country there. If I have to choose one thing, I’d probably bring my Polaroid camera, I think that would make a few people happy. [editor’s note: personally, I like this minimalist instant digital Polaroid camera]