Arab culture has long fascinated me and for over a decade it has been the main theme of my photography.

My current project, “Mectoub”, focuses on men, particularly the young urban generation. Since early 2011, they have been part of a larger movement calling for greater individual freedom.

Since 2012, I have been photographing in Moroccan and Egyptian cities (though the project is ongoing and I intend to travel to other Arab countries). In each of these cities, I seek out male strangers who I ask to pose for portraits. Once they’ve agreed, I take my subjects aside, removing them from social pressures and expectations. The idea is to create a space of intimacy in which they will feel relaxed. I leave my subjects free to reveal something of their inner selves: their personality, sensitivity, fragility or sensuality.

In countries where freedom is hidden or hindered, exposing oneself is an act of rebellion. In my role as a female foreigner, I challenge them to be as real as possible, offering them the opportunity to turn conventions upside down.

Therefore, I see the portraits as collaborations between cultures. My hope is that these photographs broaden the idea of what it means to be an Arab man today.

—Scarlett Coten

Editors’ note: “Mectoub” and Scarlett Coten were given the 2016 Leica Oskar Barnack Award—congratulations to Coten for this much-deserved recognition! Discover the updated edit of the project here.