I’m now running new masterclasses for Essaouira. Click for more details.
I’m now running new masterclasses for Essaouira. Click for more details.
The phrase Morocco photography doesn’t readily suggest trees and forests but those that cut a swatch through the region of Essaouira are vast and perhaps not the grandest forests they offer exploration. The forests close to where I live provide a source of materials for the local economically challenged rural population. Living off the land with electricity as the only mains connection, harvesting from the surrounding forests is essential to survive; nuts to produce oil, grazing for livestock, rocks to build with and wood to burn.
The forests are government owned and the culling of trees is prohibited and policed by the forestry commission and yet there are few if any alternatives to heat homes and cook with. So trees are partially felled and left to dry, stripped of bark and removed. Scouring the forest reveals trees and branches at various stages of disintegration left to dry out in the summer sun.
North Facing north effects
One of the natural characteristics of the west coast of Morocco particularly in the region of Essaouira is the strident northern winds which despite the southerly location can bring a cold air. Some days in late August can bring the need for a jacket and scarf. whilst
After initial forest outings I began to notice that on the north side of trees there were greater amounts of moss and lichen which when bought into camera view revealed a range of textures and colours. I also noticed the branches of larger trees and tentacles of the smaller shrubs were bending to the wind’s leaving a swirling form ideal to forms compositions with.
The first time I ventured into a largely clear area within the forest I felt there would be photographic possibilities perhaps fuelled by the obvious change in terrain, although it’s standout features are few. I Immediately liked the idea of producing a sequence of images from just this small location, again the setting of boundaries appealed to me and with that a notion of having to look more intently.
As a general observation arriving earlier at a location to scout out possibilities doesn’t work for me as the light is so very different the scene itself offers no inspiration or indication of what to photograph. Also a delayed return will often mean a potential image is removed. In the case of the lattice work cobweb, the next day it was no longer there. It only caught the light for just a few minutes on the day I photographed it. I didn’t have time to shoot various compositions as the dipping sun fell behind a tree. In fact all the webs were soon to vanish alongside the fallen branch taken for firewood by one of my neighbours soon after.
To the west
It’s one supposed rule of photography to be careful about shooting into or towards the sun not just for the obvious glare and eye damage but because of the contrast differential between the bright and shadow areas. I was always intrigued by the possibilities of shooting in the direction as the light offers a unique quality both with the warmth of the Moroccan sun and with filtering through trees.
Having a camera with dynamic rage of 14 stops or thereabouts allows previously untapped possibilities for recording shadow detail whilst maintaining highlight control. Keeping the camera’s histogram towards the right but not clipping and using software to bring up shadow detail reveals the possibilities of image making towards the sunset. Morocco photography subjects can indeed surprise.
For part of our High Atlas tour one of our photography workshops is to visit a nomad family which gives guests the chance to photograph one of Morocco’s special groups of people.
During the past year I’ve made several trips into the High Atlas region to locate families and photograph them. Women and girls have been the focus of my project. Sometimes it’s easy to find them, more often it’s a long off road drive and hike and then only through luck. Like any kind of portraiture, it’s about a connection and for a few brief minutes developing trust. For this reason I preferred women and girls for my project. The dynamic of flattery and humour sits more comfortably for both parties. There’s also the beauty of course. Women’s and girl’s eyes, make-up and clothing are hard to photographically resist. I tried to include as much context as possible without diminishing the power of the close-up. I chose to keep it simple and that for me in portrait terms is the subject before me acknowledging the camera. Always with a view to future photography workshops, it’s always about developing contact to give guests the best experience on a tour.
More on nomads:
in Morocco number around 5000 and are rapidly dwindling. The lure of education for their children and work in towns and cities for young males means the nomadic way of life is becoming less practicable. The realisation that educating children can alleviate future hardships has prompted the need to find a more permanent homestead.
For many, it’s the only life and work they know. Moving with cattle during the summer months to higher ground for grazing, the kind of stoney mountainside that is ubiquitous in Morocco, provides a source of food and some income for essential supplies but not enough money for medication to treat their animals or afford essential healthcare for families.
Although these nomads are Moroccan subjects, they often lack the documentation to prove their Moroccan nationality. The lack of legal documentation is one of the top obstacles of the nomad tribes. With no civil status, access to a documented civil marriage contract, education, health or employment is more difficult.
Despite these daily struggles, the small communities who live a nomadic lifestyle are proud of who they are but they would like better living conditions. Their wish list is for water and education; licenses to dig wells and mobile schools for children.
For nomad women life can be especially difficult. Starting their days at the crack of dawn when they leave their caves or tents to wander around the nearby mountainsides collecting water and wood on foot it can be several hours to amass what they need. Their existence is also one of isolation with limited contact to the outside world unlike the menfolk who travel to nearby villages and cities to shop for their daily necessities. You can read the full published article in Dodho.
Annually we venture to new parts of Morocco in search of future tour locations for our Morocco photography workshops. This year it was to Goulmine in Morocco’s south west where we wanted to see and indeed booked a Guedra performance. Guedra is a form of dance, a ritual usually found in the southern desert towns of Goulmine and Tan Tan. For followers of Led Zeppelin, their hard rock classic Kashmir was penned near Tan Tan. Guedra is an evening time custom, normally held around a fire with a group of men up to 10 providing the rhythm using hands and drums and the Guedra a female dancer staging different evocations of a ritualised performance.
Guedra dance is about the hands and fingers. Possibly a sorrowful face is also in keeping. Wearing black and ornate jewellery the Guedra’s hands and fingers are kept under wraps until she feels the time is correct, then with hand-to-head motions, she salutes the four corners: north, south, east and west, to represent the elements fire (the sun), earth, wind and water. The Guedra uses fingers to communicate, the lines to the spirit and energy fields, she touches her stomach, heart and head, at that point rapidly flicks her fingers towards all others introduce, in life or soul, sending gifts to them from the profundities of her spirit’s vitality. The men are joyful and provide a high octane atmosphere.
More images of the Guedra and Goulmine can be found here. The photos initially in colour were cropped to square format and were shot at high ISO’s of up to 6400 and with wide angle lenses. Our Morocco photography workshops can be booked all year round and include tours to Fez, Meknes and Chefchaouen. We also run landscape tours to Andalusia in Spain focusing on photographing forest, rivers and coastline.
I’m launching a new tour for Spain starting next year specifically for those interested in landscape photography. We’ll be located in Western Andalusia honing in on three distinct locations which you can see from the gallery of images below which is my semi-abstract take on the region. The region is photographically rich and offers plenty of scope for using ND filters and wide angle lenses, kit that often doesn’t get a work-out in Morocco.
The photographic sites include the natural parks to the north west of Malaga with their unique cork trees, Rivers near Seville and beaches areas close to Cadiz. The tour will be instructive hands-on showing you how to get the best compositions and how to develop your own approach. We won’t cover the basics as we’ll be on location most of the time but techniques such as depth of field, hyperfocal distance will get covered and there will be the chance to review images during the day or in the evening. Whilst most of the locations are accessible by car, there’s a little steep walking in the river areas but easily achievable without a heavy rucksack. There will be the option of extending your stay in Seville or Malaga with the option to fly into either airport. The accommodation will be in rural settings as close to the photographic zones as possible. The cost for 8 nights will be £1799 which includes your accommodation and transport to locations based on 4 people.
Forests, rivers with waterfalls and rocky seascapes are all in the mix and there are both wider views to be taken as well as more abstract close-up work so ideal also for owners of macro lenses or a telephoto with a good macro facility. Available dates will be in July this year plus May and September in 2018. Click to view a gallery of my images from the region.