Fashion

Fashion photographer and art director, multi-hyphenate Zain Ali’s photoessays bring a fresh perspective on male intimacy


When Zain Ali was asked what he hoped to achieve with his visual curation of people, he said simply, “To tell a story.” It’s an uncommonly modest goal, but one that helps explain the quiet, probing quality of composition and content found on his Instagram gallery. Ali records nuances of everyday life, of quotidian experiences, and puts them down into a labyrinth of vignettes that pierces the façade of masculinity. “I feel visual storytelling creates space for everybody while allowing the artist to express their power and vulnerability. without spelling it out,” explains the British-Pakistani multidisciplinary artist in a video interview.

London-based Pakistani photographer Ali takes to the camera’s lens to cultural highlight nuances in self-portraits. Visual storytelling, he says, makes up his love language

Ali, 29, is something of a multi- hyphenate personality. He is a photographer, art director and the founder of the label Znali—the January cover of British GQ featured actor and rapper Riz Ahmed in Znali’s Rahat trousers—but his educational background is in religion, philosophy and ethics, with a postgraduate degree in law. By day, he is the programme manager at the Young Foundation Communities, a consultancy outfit which identifies the poorer parts of London and works with its residents to access grant funding. In his free time, he is a photographer and art director. “I was not brought up in an artistic background. In fact, the idea that one could make a living from an artistic career was unthinkable,” says Ali. “As a first-generation immigrant, it was about survival and the security that comes with a steady job, rather than pursuing dreams of taking up art direction or photography.”

His is an incredible personal story about exploring the deeper meaning of identity and a sense of belonging, which is intuitively revealed through his creative projects. Ali was five when his family
emigrated to the UK from Pakistan. And it’s in Morecambe, “a white working-class town in the UK”, where he spent his formative years as “the single brown kid” in school. “You didn’t see anybody who looked or spoke like me, or whose home smelled like mine,” he says with a wry smile. These moments and emotions, Ali feels, have shaped his perception of what it means to be desi, and that a place you call home doesn’t necessarily require a postcode. “We all understand intimacy in some shape or form, and the emotion of living in a collective culture. It’s always fun to find common threads between India, Pakistan or wider South Asian culture—what I refer to as a wider realm of human nature—and tie them together to tell those stories.”

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