Marrakech at Night (and the Challenges of Shooting in a Foreign Country)

Here’s a painful truth: I haven’t been particularly interested in photography lately.

I’ve spent months wondering whether I chose the right career path and self-flagellating about my abilities as a photographer while my camera has gathered dust in a corner (figurative dust—I’m still doing the work, of course). We planned our honeymoon around some of the most beautiful locales in the world, and in doing so, I saw it as an opportunity for me to re-connect with one of my great loves.

We flew to Casablanca from JFK, where we immediately hopped a train to Marrakech. One of the first places we went after we dropped off our gear was to Jemaa El Fna, the local medina.

As expected, I was immediately inundated with photographic opportunities. But, in that first day, I found myself in several situations where I was rebuffed for taking a photograph—sometimes aggressively, and sometimes by people who were such a tiny part of a larger photograph that I didn’t even realize they were in the frame! There were a couple of instances in which I paid for the ability to make an image, but the time frame I had in which to get it was extremely limited (the snake charmers decided I hadn’t given them enough dirham and one thrust a snake at me).

The second day went similarly. I literally got yelled at for taking a photo of a dead fish in a supermarket.

It may be unclear, so I feel I should point out that I am, as a rule, a photographer who prefers to remain inconspicuous. Courtesy is important to me. I tend to keep my distance. If I want to make a portrait, I ask. Nothing exploitative.

Last night, on the way home after the fish debacle, I decided to try something a little different: I decided to shoot from the hip. I pulled the viewfinder away from my face and steadied it against my stomach, cradling the lens with my left hand, index finger of the right hand poised to click the shutter. I’m guessing I looked a lot like a scared white tourist afraid of having her camera snatched (not the case, though a local did make a point of telling me to keep my camera and bag in front of me at all times, so I guess I used his advice for my own purposes). Whatever the case, it worked. I came home with a set of images that, while not at all what I’d wanted or expected, I do really love.

I posted a confused Facebook status about all of it today (after getting rebuffed, yet again, by a guy driving a donkey cart before I’d even raised my camera to shoot them from behind as a part of a larger street scene—I mean, the thought was actually occurring to me as he was giving me the what-for). I live in a city where tourists are constantly snapping photos around me, and I’ve learned to turn my head or jump out of the way. I have definitely been the victim of at least one asshole tourist who got within two feet of me, took a picture of my chest tattoo, and walked away without a word. I feel like I have a solid understanding of how irritating it is to have people in your face all the time, but the feeling here is different. Figuring it was a cultural difference I hadn’t accounted for, I got to Googlin’ and found that Muslims, in general, are not fond of cameras (or tourists with them)—especially dSLRs—for various reasons I’m too lazy to write about right now. Good to know, given that we’ve got another week in Morocco. We’re leaving for Fes tomorrow.

I’m going to have to get creative.

Marrakesh at night

Marrakesh at night

Marrakesh at night

Marrakesh at night

Marrakesh at night

Marrakesh at night

Marrakesh at night

Marrakesh at night

Marrakesh at night

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