Aminah Yusuf: There’s Always Something Playing

Yusuf, formerly known as Cat Stevens, is one of the legends in music. He wrote songs such as “Father and Son”, “Wild World” or “Morning has Broken”. Currently Yusuf is back on stage; he started his European Tour 2011 earlier this month. Aminah, his daughter, is a professional photographer and Leica happens to be her favorite camera.  Read more in our interview with Aminah, exclusive on Leica Blog.

Q: Aminah, when did you start as a photographer?

A: I’ve always been interested in photography for as long as I can remember. When I was about eight years old I made a pinhole camera and turned the garage of my family home in London into a little darkroom. The developing process was always very exciting and my father had lots of slides from when he was touring that I loved to look through. However, until I studied photography as an A-Level when I was 16, I didn’t think about it as something I could pursue further. Everybody assumed I would go into Architecture because of my love for Art and Mathematics, but as interesting as it seemed, the nomad in me couldn’t quite commit to something so regimented and strict. Despite a disenchantment from my tutor’s lack of concern, the support I received from my brother – and his willingness to be used as a subject in order to practice and experiment with the camera I inherited from our father – really encouraged me not to give up. He wasn’t accepted to study music because he couldn’t read it, but he didn’t let that halt his musical journey, which really inspired me to do the same.

Q: Also you grew up in a singer family and you concentrate on photography. Are there any parallels between composing a song and taking a picture?

A: My brother and I are very close and at the time I started taking photographs, he was honing his musical talents. Because of this closeness, I found myself to be unconsciously documenting his journey, which I am thankful to say has continued to this day. I have been able to witness different techniques in composing music and it is my understanding that there are definite parallels in creative mediums. Some musicians work with a formula for composing; they know what works, what makes a hit, and by the same virtue, a photographer can determine what would be aesthetically pleasing to people. It’s like popular culture. Others don’t follow that path; they experiment, work with odd beats, different scales, improvisation. It’s more an experience and feeling you get with that kind of music and the same can be said for pictures. You may or may not work with a formula depending on the occasion, but I’ve always preferred Hendrix and Braque to The Beach Boys and Warhol.

Q: Do special songs inspire your work as photographer?

A: I can’t say that any particular type of music has had a conscious effect on my photographic inspiration. When taking pictures during live performances, the familiarity of songs does contribute to the outcome; sometimes a lot of movement enhances the energy and at times a really crisp, clean capture of an expression or breath will make it really special. I don’t really have playlists or anything; it’s easy for people to be comfortable when they can put on whatever music they like. Also, because of my brother and dad, there’s always something playing anyway!

Q: Do you concentrate on special subjects or scenes?

A: My favourite photographs are of people I have relationships with; it helps when there is an eased atmosphere that allows me to blend into the background. I’m not a competitive person and like to do things out of passion and love rather than obligation; I’ve never dreamed of being the photographer with the biggest repertoire of subjects because I’m more concerned with quality over quantity. It’s not hard to take impressive photos of famous people, to use fancy equipment and boast a big budget for ostentatiousness, but to have a journey with a person and a story that transcends what can necessarily be seen in an image is far more worthwhile to me. This bond means there’s always an element of collaboration with regards to setting and composition and that is a wonderful way of working because it allows for creative growth on both sides. You can never stop learning and it’s really fun to experiment and make mistakes.

Q: How did you get in touch with Leica?

A: During my self-directed study at the age of 20, a fascination with the life of Ernesto Guevara led me to the original photograph of him taken by Alberto Korda in 1960 that was turned into the infamous icon. I was blown away and decided to go in search of a Leica M2 – which was his camera – to use alongside a 1956-65 120mm TLR which I acquired at the age of 19. Upon finding this gem, it instantly became my tool of choice for the quality of its construction as well as the indescribable effect it gave to photographs, but my dad’s need for instant access to images meant that I had to make the transition to digital. This, coupled with the workload of university where I was studying for an honours degree in footwear, meant that my M2 had to take a back seat for a while. After graduating from university, I went straight to Australia and New Zealand, where my father was playing his first tour in 33 years and I took photos throughout every performance. It was completely new for me not only being on a tour, but also being the only photographer for whole concerts, which was both amazing and terribly frightening. The experience was a truly rewarding one and I was immediately energized to dive into photography now that my formal education was completed.

Q: In May and June you will join your father on his European tour and cover the concerts with the Leica M9. Is there a reason why you decided using the M9 for this special project?

A: When my father decided to do a European tour in 2011, I made up my mind to find a camera that would give me the high-quality and speed of digital with a full-frame format, in a bid to get closer to my analog roots. For no particular reason, I wandered through Central London to Bruton Street with my brother one day in November and noticed the Leica logo by the front of a shop. He suggested we have a look at the cameras they had for sale since he knew how much I loved my M2 and appreciated the photos it produced. I can’t adequately describe my feelings, but when the assistant put the M9 in my hands I knew it was something special. It looked like my beloved M2, I raised it to my eye and my fingers so naturally fell into place. The familiarity of its construction and operation made it easy to handle and the shutter release sound was so satisfying to my ears. The images it produced reminded my once again why Leica was in a league of its own and the fact that it was full-frame and compatible with other M series lenses meant that a harmonious bridge could be built between the analog and digital worlds of photography without ridiculous compromise. And then, like a shutter release, my mind clicked and I realised that not only would it be an honour to use this camera for the upcoming tour, but the most dates being played were in Germany, and Leica was a German brand. I didn’t know how to take it further, but I knew that this first European tour in over 30 years needed to be documented well and what better way than with the highest quality brand originating from the country of performance? With both parties symbolising an unwavering dedication to quality and truth through image and song, it appeared to me as a perfectly compatible match.

Q: How would you describe your relationship with your father, one of the most the famous song writer and rock stars?

A: That’s not easy! I’m incredibly grateful for the parents that I have, but find it hard to describe what my life is like with them because it is all I have ever known so there’s nothing to compare it to. Believing that we are all the children of Adam, I never really understood the notion of ‘fame’ and so I was quite unaware of just how much of an effect my father’s music had on others until he started performing again and I could see and feel the emotions in people’s eyes. For me, my parents have been gardeners who lovingly tended to the roots of their children’s beings so that they could grow strong and steadfast in their own right. As the youngest of five, I had a lot of people around to observe and learn from. My parents, both being incredibly creative and involved in education, always understood the importance of allowing us to discover our naturally explorative characters and the individual journey that we must all make. Their encouragement of neutral fairness, spiritual and physical expression through travelling and interacting with people all over the world has been invaluable because it demonstrates that seeking knowledge, truth and good character is perpetual fuel for humanity. Love, laughter and an open mind definitely sums up our outlook; there are a lot of jokes played, eagerness to try new food, an especially big sweet tooth, love of Peter Sellers and a habit of putting on accents. Just don’t ask for a demonstration!

-Leica Internet Team

You can find more info on Yusuf’s European tour on his website, http://www.yusufinconcert.com. Aminah also photographed King CharlesNoxshi and Yemisi Blake.