Marrakech is Morocco’s third largest city, situated at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. It is a sprawling conglomeration of street art, monkey trainers, motorbikes, juice stands and henna tattoo artists. An exotic pattern of richly stocked souls ripe for story telling through the lens of a camera. Within these medieval walls of arts and crafts, tanneries and Saadian tombs lie the abundance of city life and all that Jemaa el-Fnaa – the main square – has to offer.
As the sun sets, more of the locals will surface along with the tourists; the magic that is the chaos of the city. When the crowds get to be to exhausting, venture down a narrow alleyway and capture the texture and proximity of the buildings as golden hour approaches. Dare to get lost in the Medina and discover the nooks and crannies of Marrakech’s grand allure.
The simple act of uttering the word Marrakech rolls off the tongue and evokes images of the beautiful business of the medina. To live here is to experience a mixture of cultures: North African, French and Arab, in a city as modern as it is ancient.
There is no better way for a photographer to experience Marrakech than to immerse oneself in the vibrant street life. Inspiring street photography is abundant all around you as you wander past vendors eager to sell you their wares. Using a film look in your photography conjures up the need to blend in with society here and be one with the culture.
Be prepared to haggle for anything and everything while in the medina. The friendlier the vendor, the more they would like you to part with your money. Be confident in your dealings, and know what you do and do not want. Be firm but friendly. Using this technique will make people more comfortable around you, and you’ll be able to casually take photos without seeming obtrusive.
Sip mint tea and nibble on figs while tourists and locals alike share stories of their daily activities. Many ex-pats live here, most from Europe who want a little slice of home, but also need some exotic inspiration. Like many street photographers, they also want to blend in with local life here.
While you want to capture much of ordinary life with your camera, it is best to do it as unobtrusively as possible. Shoot from the hip, as you want to capture the elusive and candid Marrakech. Whether it be a child eating sweets from a food stall, or an old man selling cigarettes by the side of the road. This is where people watching is most intriguing. If you act normal and confident, you won’t have much of a problem capturing the real and gritty city with your lens.
Colors and Contrasts
For some, Marrakech is ‘the Red City’, for all of the baked clay richness of the terracotta buildings. Contrasting this with the plethora of greenery and all her protected gardens makes for some striking beauty and is ripe with photographic opportunities. Find someone wearing a splash of red in this environment and you will end up with some incredible shots.
In a city that is both new and old, contrasts are all around you. A tiny alleyway may hold a myriad of textures, a delightful depth of field and a symmetry unlike any other type of subject matter. As you wander the streets, your eye will quickly adjust to recognizing these opportunities.
Capturing contrasts is prime fodder for black and white street photography as well. Light and shadows, especially around the golden hours, are great for this. Play around with different shots and get a feel for what works best for color and for black and white.
As with any good photographer, patience is key, especially in a busy city full of humble-living people and street hagglers. Unlike landscape photography, it requires patience of a difference kind. To remedy this, always be friendly and respectful of those who are simply living their day-to-day lives. You will more often than not be rewarded with reciprocal kindness. This is the best way to capture daily life here. Be casual in your picture-taking. Blend in. If anyone gives you trouble, be kind and move on. Always try to put yourself in their shoes and you will fare well.
Life for people here is routine. As in many parts of the world, people you encounter on the street are living simply, and making a hard-earned living or looking forward to their next meal. Evidence of this is all around you in Marrakech as you walk the streets, duck into tiny alleyways and dodge donkeys and motorbikes.
Older men sitting by the side of the road may regard you warily with your camera, but they are most likely simply curious about you. Children with their families, on their way home from school or playing in the streets will delight and inspire you.
A lonely but ornate front door or any other inanimate object under the right light is just as beautiful and interesting as any vibrant street scene. However, keep in mind that beauty is always in the eyes of the beholder – what is beautiful to you may not necessarily be that way for the next photographer. Just like a great novel, the subject matter of great street photography is subjective. Trust your own eye and you will not be disappointed in the outcome.
One of the key considerations when travelling is what equipment you are willing to carry. I believe that less options forces us photographers to find more creative solutions. So, instead of packing all my lenses, carrying just a few pieces of gear makes the whole experience a more pleasant thing to do. This is the reason why I primarily just use my unobtrusive Fujifilm X100F for city trips. This 23mm APS-C fixed-lens camera ticks every mark: the electronic viewfinder is pleasing to use, the lightweight handling intuitive, the image quality great and the integrated film simulations offer a creative vantage point.