Portrait of Marrakech (Working Title)
December 10, 2013
by Magnum Photographers
In a collaborative project with MMPVA (Marrakech Museum of Photography and the Visual Arts), five Magnum photographers lived and worked for two weeks alongside curator Simon Njami and the local creative community of Marrakech, to document the city. A pop up exhibition is currently on show at the MMP+ space in Badi Palace, Marrakech through to 1 February 2014.
Simon Njami, Curator - The Shock Of Being Seen (extract)
Photography is above all about telling stories. The photographer uses his own language to express ideas and feelings; as the French psychologist Henri Delacroix put it: “language is what transforms the chaotic world of sensations into forms and representations”. He is, in other words, translating a certain reality into his own words. Then comes the viewer who is forced to translate a translation into another language that he masters best. What is gained and what is lost in this operation is what our project is all about. We are focussing on this “in between” dear to Socrates, which is the space, the only one, where a dialogue can occur between two apparent contradictory realities. In Marrakech, we found ourselves lost in translation. But instead of avoiding the problems that were raised by this reality, we decided to embrace them, to confront them in a both visual and intellectual manner. We don’t know about the results, because we decided to give up any form of certainty outside of what we knew we could master: the production of images. We moved away from any comfort zone to appear fragile before the Marrakech people eyes. They will be the ones to read what we have been doing from their own vintage point. There is a polysemy contained in each image that is nothing but subjectivity. The only thing that the photographers gathered in the Marrakesh experience can affirm, without fearing to be wrong is what Roland Barthes once urged them to be proud of: I was there. What we have been experiencing here, bodies and souls, is what Jean-Paul Sartre in Black Orpheus, his introduction to the Anthology of Black poetry gathered by Léopold Sédar Senghor in 1948, named “the shock of being seen”. But it is not only about us, dear visitors. It is also about you.
Abbas - Dark Light
The first words addressed to me, in Marrakech, are a little girl’s injunction : “Ma tasvirtish!” Her tone means : “Don’t you dare take my photo!”. The Muslims reticence towards the representation of the human face? - in a city which has become very conservative : nigabs flourish as do the shaved heads and the long beards of the new-born muslim men ; too many two-legged homo touristicus with three eyes? It looks like the threshold of tolerance towards photography has been reached in this city. Morrocco is an ancient kingdom, a nation since centuries. In old civilisations, as in my native Iran, reality is not unique but multiple, entangled in each other like the ryads of the medina, veined by narrow streets, protected by the walls of the city, a theatre of shadows. The shadow, a dark light, becomes a metaphor for the city.
Susan Meiselas In Collaboration With Leila Hida & Imane Berakat - 20 Dirham or 1 Photo
A photograph is an expression of a relationship. What can I offer or exchange? Tourists taking pictures of people as objects merely part of the landscape; I see the pictures I am not taking. An outsider acknowledgement of the impossibility; No illusions to immerse. Doors open slightly only to reveal lives which cannot be entered. The challenge is to create active participation by those who protest the photograph being made: a collaboration of a pop up Sunday studio to confront the question of the value of a photograph vs. the dirham to those imaged here?
Where to begin? Red is in all places in Marrakech, the ground and buildings, the flags, the fake Diesel shirts and caps. Tourists fighting back merchants and touting taxi offers. Tourists buying, wearing inappropriate clothing. The streets are full of noise and movement. Motorcycles and bicycles rocket and weave thru the crowds. Donkey carts push in. I speak two languages fairly well… English and a type of sign language… using my face and hands to indicate respect. My hand goes to my heart. My eyes smile trust. How to even say hello? Difficult to look in the faces I pass by. Even the kids stay away, shaking their hands, “no photo, no photo,” or rubbing their fingers together and asking for money. There was the bottle collector who agreed to have his picture taken – but then two drunks wanted money, and a man on a crooked metal crutch started yelling and soon a crowd surrounded us, a woman shouting violent accusations about me coming here to take pictures of their country as only a place of garbage. I try to explain that I mean to do this with respect. Respect is accepting everything as it is, and not looking away. But even my assistant turns away when I am taking a person’s photo because he thinks I am stealing a soul. Today I was told not to take a picture of a horse. It was eating grass out of a beautiful red glowing feedbag in the early morning light.
I couldn't hope to connect in 10 days. To get in. But I could pass by. The back of a motorbike was both exposure and safety. Vulnerable, out of control, but always moving. The technology is called 'Freedom 360'. Six 'Gopro Hero's' - a panopticon on a stick, a magic wand of seeing, a sinister frame that, just like those around me, I cannot escape. You're supposed to stitch the six videos into a seamless three-hundred and sixty degree immersive video for ski heroes or people jumping out of aeroplanes or estate agents. But I don't - preferring to leave my videos fractured and contingent, like my experience of this place where I have washed up. Many things that seem very different are all true. The tarot cards in Jemaa el-Fna were right about love and life and material things. Almost. But as night fell, the storytellers I had heard about were nowhere to be seen, and the comedians were not for me, not in a language I could hear. Just monkeys and snakes and another turn at the cards.
From a car the city unfolds as a series of miraculous, life-affirming tableaux. The place is a mess, a beautiful, shambolic mess. There is too much to photograph. So, instead, I just watch. Occasionally we stop. Placing myself apart, I go (almost) unnoticed, surveying the scene as I might watch a play, with Marrakech the stage. The play is a series of scenes within scenes - pictures within pictures – a performance in several simultaneous acts. In England, we have an expression to describe an observer of life, rather than a participant in it. In Morocco, that is me.