View Full Version : Our interview with Wahb Mabkhout
26th April 2011, 13:55
<br>Here at the Judgment of Paris, we have always had an affinity for outsiders: individuals who enter the plus-size fashion industry from the periphery and challenge it, sometimes even transforming it. These visionaries often provide fascinating perspectives and insights, from Constantine Valhouli, who shot the <i>Curve</I> documentary about plus-size models in 2001, to Gwen DeVoe, who fought hard for FFFWeek to attain its current, central status. Sometimes the outsiders succeed spectacularly, sometimes they do not, but their stories are invariably compelling and their efforts admirable.
Celebrity photographer Wahb Mabkhout, who staged the recent "Glamorous Curves" exhibition at the <i>About Face</i> show in Los Angeles, has a level of experience in the mainstream fashion industry second to none, having worked as a designer, model, and photographer for nearly three decades. He has shot with with some of the world's top designers and straight-size supermodels. However, when he ventured into the plus-size industry a few months ago, he was very much treated as an outsider, and faced roadblocks that will shock and appal most readers, especially given the contribution that his talent could make to an industry that is hungry for prestige.
In our interview with Mr. Mabkhout, we were privileged by the photographer's candour in sharing the very personal circumstances behind his reassessment of the fashion industry, and his push for that industry to begin celebrating fuller-figured women. Far more than a discussion of aesthetics, this interview touches on topics that will resonate with readers on a personal level, particularly issues facing men who are attracted to full-figured women.
Furthermore, the interview explores various technical aspects of fashion photography, both general and specific to full-figured models. Mr. Mabkhout expresses a truly size-celebratory philosophy and promises to realize one of the most long-awaited fantasies that aficionados of plus-size beauty have cherished for years. What might that be? Keep in mind Mr. Mabkhout's background as a photographer for <i>Sports Illustrated</I>, and let your imaginations run wild . . .
And now we encourage everyone to get to know a little bit more the photographer who recognized today's full-figured models as equal in beauty to the Renaissance or Baroque goddesses of the world's great museums, and displayed their framed portraits in an art gallery, establishing their identity as living embodiments of the timeless ideal.<p><center><img src="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/wahb/wahb03b.jpg"></center><p>- <a href="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/wahb/" target="_blank">Click here to read our interview with Wahb Mabkhout</a>
26th April 2011, 18:52
Great interview. I love how self-assured he is about his mission. His future projects sound so exciting. Offering alternative media that is equal in style and quality but with plus-size models rather than straight size is crucial to "consciousness raising", making people aware that there are alternative and superior forms of beauty out there that are just being suppressed (shockingly even by their own industry, as the interview showed) from view. People will start waking up and realising that it doesn't have to be this way. We don't have to suffer under the emaciated "ideal".
Wahb has proven himself with his extraordinary exhibition. It makes me hopeful that we have a champion out there dedicated to breaking down barriers. Best of luck to him.
27th April 2011, 02:25
Okay, I have to admit to nearly experiencing a heart attack when I read this news in the interview:
HSG: As I was looking through your YouTube channel, I was amazed at the quality of work that you have done—for example, for Sports Illustrated. Might you ever get the chance to shoot plus-size models in the Sports Illustrated style?
WAHB: You just hit the nail on the head. It’s a project of mine to be the first photographer to launch a yearly swimwear issue that will become as prestigious as the normal Sports Illustrated with plus-size girls. And that is what my reality TV show will be working on. This is what will be illustrated.
WAHB: Thank you very much. I’ll be shooting pictures in the Sports Illustrated style with a few plus-size models for my pilot for the reality TV show. That’s going to be in a month or so.
This is too exciting for words. It's too good to be true. Every fan of plus-size models has been dreaming of something like this at least as far back as Mode, which introduced the idea in its swimwear editorials with Barbara Brickner. To think that this might finally come about...I can scarcely believe it.
Now, it's easy for anyone to say that they want to do a plus-size Sports Illustrated with full-figured models and then simply shoot a few plus-size model in swimwear in an unremarkable studio setting. But Mr. Mabkhout has actually shot for Sports Illustrated. He knows first-hand exactly what it takes to achieve that very specific look: the paradisaical locations, the sensual poses, the tropical flavour...everything. The pictures are "in his head," as he says in the interview, and without that initial vision and technical understanding, it cannot be accomplished.
What's more, as he showed with his "Glamorous Curves" show at About Face, he doesn't use faux-plus models, size 8 or 10, and pretend that they are plus. No, he uses true plus-size models, size 14, 16, 18. In other words, this will be a project with genuinely full-figured goddesses.
I hope it happens. With Mr. Mabkhout's background, he certainly has the expertise to make it happen, and it sounds like he has the will too. The idea of such a venture being filmed for a TV pilot...it boggles the mind.
I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that this might become a reality, as I'm sure everyone will.
27th April 2011, 18:09
There were many things in this interview that I found significant, but what really stood out was the personal story that Mr. Mabkhout was so generous in revealing. The plight of the women in his life, who suffered because of the emaciated standard that the fashion industry imposes, obviously deeply affected him.
As he acknowledges, at first he worked in the fashion industry and won great acclaim without reflecting on the effect that his industry's underweight standard was having on society:
WAHB: When I was in the midst of the fashion industry, I really didn’t think about it...I never thought about it too much, refusing or accepting where the industry was going.
But then he met his ex-fiancee who, as he describes her, was "a really big girl," and although he found her gorgeous, she suffered terribly because of her negative body image:
WAHB: She was very, very affected by… She hated her body. She was crying all the time. She was killing herself at the gym, trying to burn a thousand calories. She was totally destroying herself.
WAHB: The girl comes from a whole life of feeling marginalized, because when she was a teenager, she was even bigger than when I met her. And obviously in high school, you know how some people can be very nasty. Especially some boys can be very nasty.
But the anecdote that I found especially revealing was this one:
WAHB: I would be working on my computer, maybe retouching some Sports Illustrated pictures, and she’d go, “Oh, that’s the kind of butt I want, but I know I’ll never have.”
I can't even begin to imagine the conflict that this must have generated in the photographer - one the one hand, caring for his girlfriend, but on the other hand seeing what his own industry, even his own photography, was doing to her, in creating a physical image that tortured her because it made her dissatisfied with her figure.
And then, even after he moves on to his next relationship, this time with a thin girl (a high-profile straight-size model), he discovers that this model also suffers body dissatisfaction, to the point of having an eating disorder (!).
Both the fuller-figured girlfriend and the thin girlfriend, both plagued by the fashion industry's unnatural, impossible standard of emaciation. No wonder he was motivated to push for change in his industry. If only other fashion professionals could demonstrate this kind of growth:
WAHB: Even the story of my ex who’s bulimic affected me and added more to the intention. Because I really got upset that many of my girlfriends were not happy with themselves.
I suppose that all of us keep hoping that the people who work in fashion will have a moment where they wake up, realize the harm that the anorexic ideal is causing, and begin celebrating full-figured beauty. In Mr. Mabkhout's case, this transformation has actually happened -- and due to painful, first-hand, personal experiences.
It's a compelling story. I hope that Mr. Mabkhout continues in his mission, and succeeds, and helps to bring about the change in the fashion industry which, as he so rightly says, "must happen."
28th April 2011, 13:57
I loved every word of the interview, and I have say, in two parts I felt like cheering out loud! First, when Mr. Mabkhout mentioned that he had no qualms about shooting the truly curvaceous Rosie Mercado:
WAHB: She came back to me and told me, “But Rosie Mercado, I don’t know if you want to shoot with her, because she’s a 16/18 on the top and she’s 26 on the bottom.” I said, “I have no restrictions.”
WAHB: I need to shoot beauty. And I don’t want to set a limit. This is an art exhibition, and I want to show that I do not have that concern: “Oh my God, no. She’s too big. Oh, no.” I said, “It’s a free thing. I need to show how things have to be open.”
I can imagine that other photographers probably have expressed offensive "restrictions" and "limitations" when shooting TRULY full-figured models, which is why the stylist was worried that Wahb might feel that way as well. But Mr. Mabkhout is different: he recognized that beauty comes in all sizes of plus, and was clearly glad to shoot Rosie. His portrait of her was one of the finest images in his "Glamorous Curves" series.
I was also especially thrilled to read this:
WAHB: I wanted them to be as they are.
WAHB: That was the beauty: not retouching anything, the curves, or anything.
HSG: Thank you!
WAHB: The stomach has to be round, just as it is. Not even a slight retouching or anything.
Instead of misinterpreting curves as "flaws," the way the fashion industry brainwashes people into viewing the visible fullness of female bodies, Mr. Mabkhout celebrates all curves, proudly and without distortion.
These points in particular give me confidence that slowly, the plus-size industry will begin celebrating full-figured beauty on its own terms. May all photographers follow Wahb's example! I hope that his greatest plans come to fruition, because if they do, we'll all benefit. I really appreciate how much of his size-positive philosophy and his personal story he shared in this interview.
<br>Here's a bit of news that will be of interest to everyone who admired the stunning portraits in Wahb Mabkhout's "Glamorous Curves" series. Now that the <i>About Face</i> exhibition is drawing to a close, Mr. Mabkhout will be putting the portraits up for sale, just as painters do with their most celebrated canvasses.
These portraits are limited editions of one print per model, and they come in their original animal-print frames. Fans of plus-size beauty, and particularly admirers of the plus-size models in the collection--Kelsey Olson, Rosie Mercado, Audrey Delano, Danielle Line, Denise Bidot, Davie Cabral, Reah Norman, and Heather Justice--may wish to obtain the image of their goddess of choice for posterity. Anyone who is interested in such a purchase may contact Mr. Mabhout at <a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a>.<p><center><a href="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/wahb/wahb02.JPG" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/wahb/wahb02d.jpg" border="0" title="Click to enlarge" alt="Click to enlarge"></a></center><p>(Photograph courtesy of Sarah, who attended the premiere.)
<br>As a further item of interest pertaining to Wahb Mabkhout's "Glamorous Curves" exhibition, the photographer has now released high-quality digital versions of his images from the <i>About Face</i> show.
These digitals can be viewed at the bottom of his Facebook <a href="http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150219234231125.350548.581501124" target="_blank">gallery</a> comprising press coverage of the event, which also features a host of images of the photographer alongside his muses, including Kelsey.
Miss Olson's portrait looks even more stunning in this pristine form, which underscores the silver-screen associations of the image. With the drama of the richly contrasting lighting, the deep decolletage of the gown, the luxurious pearl necklace, and the model's luminescent skin tone and radiant tresses, the picture vividly recalls photographs of Jean Harlow from the golden age of cinema. Yet never in all of its history was Hollywood privileged to capture on film the beauty of a goddess as stunning as Kelsey.<p><center><a href="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/kelsey/about23.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/kelsey/about23a.jpg" border="0" title="Click to enlarge" alt="Click to enlarge"></a></center><p>Rosie Mercado's portrait, on the other hand, demonstrates Mr. Mabkhout's commitment to size-positive aesthetics. Her gown embraces the soft curves of her physique, sumptuous contours that the photographer's lens delineates in all of their luxuriant fullness. As Kelsey is the blonde bombshell, so Rosie is the raven-haired vixen.<p><center><a href="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/kelsey/about24.jpg" target="_blank"><img src="http://www.judgmentofparis.com/kelsey/about24a.jpg" border="0" title="Click to enlarge" alt="Click to enlarge"></a></center><p>We continue to applaud Wahb Mabkhout's efforts in bringing to the full-figured industry a higher level of aesthetic accomplishment, and we particular honour the fact that he staged an exhibition of plus-size models in an art gallery, thus reinforcing the identity of his subjects as latter-day muses and living works of art.
(Click images to view larger.)
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