Exotic charm and a haven for the senses. Essaouira is an ideal location for a winter break learning photography.
There is a wealth of opportunities for learning photography and taking excellent photographs here. Visiting Morocco is never dull, there is always something to see and do, nothing is sanitised for tourists, you get the real deal. Visit a camel market, wander through the surrounding souks and enjoy local fresh food, totally organic and without chemicals, fresh fish and spices galore. All of this within the backdrop of some of the most stunning architectural structures in Africa.
The medina in Essaouira is much less intimidating than its Marrakesh neighbour and is feast for the senses. As well as all the spices you can think of curious objects abound mostly made from Thuja, a rare and endangered hardwood, its marquetry made Essaouira’s reputation as far back as the 18th century. The multitude of designs Thuja can be put to is quite astounding. The level of craftsmanship is very high in the region. Jewellery is another specialism in the town that somewhat faded in statue but nonethless the silver artefacts produced here are great value.
The Tanneries in the town are a pale shadow of the former industries that used to employ hundreds, but still the current small scale operations provide great spectacle if one can bare the strong odour of hides. The skins stretched and dyed in the most striking colours usually provide the basis for lamp shades swirled into a variety of Arabic shapes and patterns sometimes adding henna to the skins. The ‘skin lamps’ are the preserve of Essaouira and I can vouch for several years good usage out of them and they wonderful additions to any holiday home renovation.
In fact shopping in the souks here is provides endless hours of entertainment. Finding time for photography in the last 2 days can prove quite a chore! The shopkeepers are game for a chat and don’t take themselves too seriously; nor should you. Buying things in Morocco involves a lot of game playing. If you’ve ever seen the scene in Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ where Brian has to haggle despite willing to meet the asking price you’ll not what’s in store. A holiday here livens the senses, the souks are small and intimate and it’s easy to navigate around them. You’ll feel quite at home and safe browsing by yourself here. If not we have our own bespoke guide, Ali, who can work as your chief negotiator and finder of exactly what you’re looking for. He once went by bus to Marrakesh and returned in the evening with a sample of leather bags for one of the photography courses participants.
The coastline in Essaouira is just miles of unspoilt wide sandy beaches, perfect for horse riding as the sun sets, as well as camel trekking and even quad biking that can take you on a mini dune adventure. Those aside there is much to do here including yoga classes, massages, kite surfing and should you wish; cycle hire. Bikes and cycling are part of the ‘Souiri’ way of life, much like the Dutch in Amsterdam. Old bikes here are very much de rigueur and more often cycled in a leisurely manner befitting a warm climate. Rarely used by women for some reason they remain the preserve of older gentleman or youngsters for which I should validate the previous ‘leisurely’ assertion; the kids here use local shoppers to practice their manoeuvring skills! Bells on bikes are non-existent although in some cases some improvisation with taped on plastic bottles effectively deputises. With a car free Medina the occasional cycle is a welcome relief to the town shopping experience in most European towns.
Sunset time in Essaouira brings with it the opportunity to stroll along the town’s two main streets and beachfront for a spot of people watching. With the warm night time air it’s one of the must do holiday experiences of Essaouira and is favourite pastime of ‘Souiri’ residents especially the mothers and children who linger to play in the main square, Place Moulay Hassan. For visitors there are always new venues for dining and music and of course cafes in the squares draw in spectators and enthusiasts for the evening atmosphere in equal measure. For a more aloof perspective of cafe life, two swanky bars overlook the main square, offering tapas and cocktails in comfortable ‘Mykonos’ style surroundings.
A holiday in Morocco wouldn’t be complete without experiencing Moroccan hospitality and here at Riad Maison du Sud, a warm welcome arrives in bundles. A truly authentic hotel in Essaouira, and located 300m from the sea, Riad Maison du Sud is a beautifully restored 18th Century Riad set in the heart of Essaouira’s bustling medina. Luxuriously renovated in Moorish style, the 24 roomed Riad offers an authentic mix of Moroccan and Andalusian architecture, design and style, making it the perfect boutique residence. The service at the Riad is attentive yet understated in the long tradition of Morocco’s finest establishments and it’s our first choice as a holiday base for our photography course.
Craig’s photography holiday in Essaouira is drawing to a close and his eye for a picture has certainly come to the fore as the week has progressed. The image left taken at Souk Idagouard shows how photography is not always about clever compositions but is more often about spotting quirky juxtapositions and allowing the subject/objects to shine through with a simple framing. Craig also took advantage of rare ‘Fantasia’ festival near Essaouira, not an event we’ve covered before on the photography holidays but once safely positioned in a good location at the front, Craig’s correct choice of shutter speed and timing gave him some truly exotic images. Mind you, the fear of being trampled by a late braking horse was surpassed by the only real incident of potential danger when an ambulance wanted to pass through at some speed. Apparently a misfiring gun had broken a warrior’s arm and I can only guess the driver felt he had room for more!
Perhaps the most unusual finding of the week has been Craig’s topographic work, a long since forgotten genre of photography, on my part at least, formalised in the 1970’s through the photographs of Lewis Baltz and Robert Adams amongst others. ‘Topographic Photography‘ focuses on man altered landscapes and in Craig’s case it was an ‘organic’ development during the week to produce something more than ‘pretty’ pictures. The topographic movement is typically characterised by photographs stripped of ‘artistic frills’.
Craig’s photographs are not as sparse as that but there is a detached and intelligent ‘eye’ at work. In all 5 superb galleries for the week. A photography holiday here in Morocco often throws up a few photographic surprises particularly with how course attendees observe such different things. I must also thank Craig for alerting me to the potential keyword search of residential photography holidays not something I had thought of before. You can view Craig’s galleries here.