This October, I spent the good part of 12 days taking photos in Morocco. The trip took me to Chefchaouen, Fez, Casablanca, Essaouira and finally Marrakech. The most asked question upon my return has been “which location did you enjoy the most”? A simple but difficult question to answer.
As a photographic experience, I would have to weigh the availability of desirable and unique subjects (landscapes, cityscapes, street scenes, portraits) against the general receptivity of the local community (more on this complex subject in a moment). I guess my best response is that I enjoyed the diversity and challenge of the numerous locations visited.
Major impressions included the significant number of iconic sites, a great deal of dust and a community maybe tired and suspect of photographers. Without a local representative (someone who speaks the language), this could be an uncomfortable location to do street and portrait photography. The tired comment refers to what many locals see as an impolite infringement of their rights by folks frequently taking photos serendipitously and without their permission. I remember a young boy, not much older than 3 years old running down the street towards me, noticing my relatively large Phase One IQ4 with a Schneider Kreuznach lens, shaking his finger while yelling “no photo, no photo”. He clearly was mimicking the gestures offered by many adults during my visit.
Honestly, from what I observed, the reaction was somewhat deserved given the general insensitivity to cultural norms by many of the tourists (admittedly, including myself at the start). It became very clear to me that the normal way of shooting street photography was not appropriate for Morocco. I quickly realized this and tried to accommodate a more engaging and respectful posture that was based on dialoging and permission, utilizing the services of someone speaking their language. Even this approach did not totally or at times significantly reduce the social tension. So, bottom line, be prepared to be patient, engaging and respectful to local tradition. Also be prepared in the majority of the cases to be denied and maybe in too many cases totally dismissed with disdain. Well, enough of the social environment, on to some of the photos taken in these diverse and challenging locations and the stories behind them.
Chefchaouen-the “Blue City”
In some respects, this is the quintessential Morocco scene. A gentleman in a black djellaba photographed walking through a blue side street framed by an arch in front of a mural depicting arches. If you look closely, the sign at the edge of the mural is what inspired the name. The image was shot with a Phase One XF, IQ4 with a 35mm Schneider Kreuznach lens on a tripod. I utilized the Henri Cartier-Bresson technique of waiting patiently for someone to walk into the scene. ISO 200, 1/160s, F/7.1
It is the expression which first caught my eye. What exactly is this gentleman thinking? The blue background of this scene makes the subject that much more distinct and adds significantly to the intrigue. Shot hand-held with the Phase One XF, IQ4 with an 80 mm Schneider Kreuznach lens. ISO 50, 1/320s,F/4
What caught my eye on this photo was the very thoughtful expression of the gentleman, the feel of tone-on-tone palette and the essence of this southern Moroccan city. The photo was shot with the Phase One XF, IQ4 with a 150mm Schneider Kreuznach lens-hand held. Yes, most of my street photos are shot hand held, carrying this camera system around for hours. The size and weight of the system often make me long for a smaller camera, but the quality of the images is well worth the effort! ISO 160, 1/400s, F/4.5
I included this photo because of the great contrast and detail. The Phase One system performed admirably in a difficult photographic location (the light was by no means ideal) yielding one of my best portraits of the trip. The photo is entitled “Music Man” because the gentleman is standing in front of his music shop. I agreed as part of the quid pro quo that I would send him the photo-I hope that he enjoyed it! The photo was captured hand held with the Phase One XF, IQ4-converted to B&W with the 150mm Schneider Kreuznach lens. ISO 320, 1/250s, F/3.5
This is a traditional photo of the market in Casablanca. I was attracted to the light beams and the contrast of the folks in modern and traditional dress. It really captures the mood of the place. The photo was taken hand-held with the Phase One XF, IQ4 with a 150mm Schneider Kreuznach lens. ISO 50, 1/250s, F/3.5
This is a magical shot of the Hassan II Mosque at blue hour which showcases the distinct architecture of Casablanca. This time I availed myself of a tripod and photographed the scene with a technical camera. I used the Phase One IQ4 back, Cambo camera and 50mm Rodenstock lens. The level of contrast, detail, and color rendition is just exceptional. ISO 50, 2s Frame Averaging, F/11
The significant crop of this photo showcases the capability of this system and makes for another stunning photograph. The simplicity of the lines and the old-fashioned streetlamps set against the milky blue tones of the horizon and the water is a cool long exposure capture. ISO 50, 2s with Frame Averaging, F/11
This photo was taken from the fortress along the city walls of the city. What drew my attention was the wonderful rock structure leading far away to the fisherman casting his line into the ocean. I don’t know what he caught from that vantage point and more importantly how he would haul in the catch. A peaceful scene indeed. The photo was taken hand-held with the Phase One XF, IQ4 with a 150 mm Schneider Kreuznach lens. ISO 100, 1/640s, F/4.5
This is a photo of one of the local crafters selling his hand made jewelry. A striking portrait in many respects and one of the best applications of eye liner I have ever seen! Captured hand-held with the Phase One XF, IQ4 with a 150mm Schneider Kreuznach lens. ISO 100, 1/400s, F/4
This is a classic photo of a local weaver. He was making beautiful scarfs and when queried his face lit up with pride as he showed the finished products. I loved how the light was falling across the subject. Captured hand-held with the Phase One XF, IQ4 with a 150 mm lens. The system did a perfect job handling the light and exceptional detail of both the subject and the loom. ISO 320, 1/250s, F/3.5
A typical shot of the market taken in the morning. The essence of an unscripted moment. The vendor proudly reviewing his produce as children peek into the scene. Taken hand-held with the Lumix S1R and Leica 90mm SL lens. ISO 640, 1/320s, F/3.5
Marrakech is known for its red city walls. What better way to advantage the location than using this background to complement this shot of a local musician? Notice his swinging tassel. Photographed hand-held with the Phase One XF, IQ4 back and the 150mm Schneider Kreuznach lens. ISO 250, 1/250s, F/4
One of the most amazing locations I visited was the old city market in Marrakech. There was so much going on, all at the same time. A wonderful real-life example of frenetic activity in all directions. One could see a boxing match, move 2 yards, and see snake charmers, move another 2 yards and see eating establishments and venders selling everything imaginable. The variety of activity went on and on. The challenge was how best to capture this great display of activity. I ended up shooting from the second story of a café. The photo is a stitch of 2 images taken with the Phase One XF, IQ4 and 35 mm Schneider Kreuznach lens. The resulting photo captures the great expanse of the market at blue hour and benefits from the frame averaging feature. Look carefully and you will see the tremendous detail and ghost shadows of people moving about in the same shot. Chaos captured.
While shooting in Morocco was difficult at times, the effort yielded a number of photos that I am very pleased with. Capturing the essence of a place is not easy. These 5 Moroccan cities are all very different in their natures and personalities. Although it is impossible to know the soul of a place by visiting for a few days, I hope to have captured the essence of these uniquely Moroccan cities.
I would like to recognize Team Reiffer (www.paulreiffer.com) for all the assistance, guidance and mentorship shared during this trip. I can’t thank Paul and Vic enough for their professionalism, support and yes, patience. I have learned a tremendous amount at the footsteps of this great photographer-Paul Reiffer. I can’t thank him enough for his willingness to share his knowledge and expertise with me. This spirit of generosity in my experience is both exceptional and unique-something I am very grateful for.
I would also like to recognize Digital Transitions ( www.dtcommercialphoto.com) (and Lance Schad) for their support in securing some of the equipment that I used. Especially the Rodenstock 138mm lens. They always deliver.
Please visit my website to see additional images from Morocco and the store for those offered for sale.
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind”
- Anthony Bourdain