Meet Mounir Raji, the Photographer Capturing Morocco’s Raw Approach to Life

A deep look into his series ‘Yallah’

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If you’ve spent some time on Instagram recently, there’s a good chance you’ve already come across his photography. Why? Because Holland-born Moroccan artist Mounir Raji’s latest series has recently gone viral. Also, because Raji finds inspiration and beauty in the simple things in life—making it easy for all of us to appreciate. 

The 38-year-old photographer splits his roots across two different continents but it’s in his native country that he finds the most drive to capture the essence of his homeland.  

“My love for Morocco is huge and the things I photograph in Morocco are the things I miss,” he tells MILLE. “The everyday life that fascinates me or reminds me of the many holidays we spent there each summer,”  he continues.

Drawing from his identity and heritage, his attention to detail has charmed some of the biggest names in the industry including Vogue, Nike and Daily Paper. Sensitive and powerful, many interpretations can be plucked out of Mounir’s photography as his lens always seems to steal a precise moment of life that all of us can relate to but don’t know how or why. 

We’re especially fans of his latest series “Yallah”, a collection of symmetrical photographs of people commuting on mopeds we’ve all at least seen once in our lives.

We sat down with the Moroccan-Dutch creative to dig in deeper into his passion, trail this lust whilst probing the significance behind his motherland and latest series. Meet Mounir Raji.

In photography we tend to focus on who, or what, is in front of the camera. This time we’d like to know who is behind it. Who is Mounir Raji?

Mounir Raji is a man born and raised in Zaandam (Netherlands) and works as a photographer in Amsterdam. He’s a Muslim, a family man and a football fan. He is the son of Zouggar and Latifa and the brother of Farid, Noura, Samir & Fouad and engaged to Isa.

What drew you to photography?  

I fell in love with photography back in 2005 when I was on a holiday with friends. I had my first point and shoot camera and one of my friends brought a DLSR camera. When I saw the depth field of that camera I was like, that’s amazing and so beautiful. After that holiday, I saved money to buy my own. I love the technique and wanted to know exactly how a camera works. So, I went to a private photography school and started assisting other photographers. That’s how it started.

Now I love to use the camera as a tool to tell stories, preferably my own stories.

How does your background and identity influence your creative direction and style? 

My background and identity formed me in a way that I’m always looking for identities. Growing up as a Moroccan kid in a relatively white surrounding, you’ve never really fit in. So, my entire life I’ve always felt a stronger connection to people of colour. I’m always curious and want to know: What’s your story? Where are you from? What’s your background? I think you can see that curiosity and connection in my photography.

Your YALLAH series was met with great success online. Why focus on such subjects on these specific bikes, which are by the way, well embedded in North Africa’s scenery?

I’m so happy with the YALLAH series and so grateful that people are so enthusiastic about it.

In the summer of 2019, I was in Morocco working on my forthcoming book entitled ‘Dreamland’, when my father unexpectedly passed away. I was emotionally broken and I lost my photographic eye, I didn’t see the beauty anymore. I couldn’t take pictures in that first period of mourning. After three weeks some women came by to give my mother their condolences and I decided to go to the rooftop to photograph a football field. It was that moment when I saw the motorcycles crossing the roundabout. I wanted to capture the motorcycles for a while, but I didn’t yet have in mind how I wanted to do that. It really felt as a gift and it helped me to get my creative energy flowing again. 

The motorbikes for me stand for the Moroccan approach to life. It shows a mentality that I sometimes miss in the Netherlands. We are guided by rules which sometimes comes at the expense of logical thinking.

The YALLAH series shows themes of family, empowerment and freedom, each picture tells a story of its own; a paused moment in someone’s journey. But for me personally the YALLAH series as a whole is more than that, it is about going from a to b regardless of the circumstances. Life goes on and you have to move on.

From portraits to larger shots, you always seem to aim attention at the human and the many faces of Morocco. Why?

My love for Morocco is huge and the things I photograph in Morocco are the things I miss. Hopefully my forthcoming book ‘Dreamland’ can be an ode to Morocco, it will show fragments of my Morocco how I know it and experience it. The everyday life that fascinates me or reminds me of the many holidays we spent there each summer.

Will there be a second volume of the YALLAH series? What can we expect from you in the times to come?

I think the YALLAH series is done for now. I hope the YALLAH exhibition can travel and do an exhibition in Morocco & France that’s the focus at the moment. In the mean time I hope I can go back to Morocco soon and continue working on my book.

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