Photography in Morocco - www.peterbubenicek.comPhotography in Morocco

Photography in Morocco

Photography in Morocco

In this article I will try to describe my experiences from shooting portraits in a few Moroccan cities - Marrakech, Imlil, Fes, Essaouira - only inside Medina. It’s not Moroccan rules, only my experiences from shooting people in the streets in Medinas.

Here is few Moroccan terms:

Medina is a name for districts - “old town” inside walls
Souk is a name for Moroccan markets and workshops in Medina
Bab is a name for a gate. You can go to the Medina through these gates, but some of them are closed in the evening and it could be hard to find your way back ;o) I was accommodated near Bab Doukkala in Marrakech.

I decided to write this article after a few days in Morocco. I had a small talk with the manager of our accommodation and he advised me very emphatically to ask each person for a permission to take pictures. I thought that it’s polite and necessary if you want to capture portraits of people and I didn’t see any problem there.

On the first day of my stay in Morocco I was just walking around Medina in Marrakech with a camera in my bag and enjoying the atmosphere of that old town. Everything was OK until the moment when I decided to take my camera out of the bag. Everything changed after only a few minutes!

Reality of taking pictures in Morocco

I like ordinary street photo but after a few shoots I realized that making this kind of photographies in Marrakech will not be easy. People shouted: “no photo” (and similar things) and put their hands in front of my camera, or turned their faces away from my lens. Simply said, people in Medina in Marrakech really don’t like photographers. It was a challenge for me!

I realized very quickly that I needed a permission for everything what I wanted to capture. For example streets in Souk, streets in Medina, small shops or products etc. When I started to ask people for photos, there were lots of prohibitions. Some of them told me that I can’t make the photos across the street or lots of them said “no” and that was all. I had to ask 8 times to get one permission.

Permissions and prices

After the first day I captured about four amazing portraits. I had to find out how to get a permission from the people to make portraits and how shooting portraits works in Medina.

There were ordinary Marrakech people in the street, or man who was driving a small wagon through Medina, or beggars. I had to get a permission from these people, then we negotiated the money issue for photos (about 90% of the people I met wanted some money for a permission to make the photos). The average price was about 20 Moroccan Dirham (it’s a smaller banknote in Morocco) it’s about 2 EUR. They weren’t satisfied when I offered them 10 or 15 Dirhams, and some of them wanted about 30 - 50 Dirhams.

First portraits

As soon as the agreement was settled, I started shooting portraits. When I shot about two pictures in Marrakech, some people around started screaming at me “no photo, no photo” or “paparazzi”, “sniper”. I could make other two portraits and then my model started looking around nervously and he didn’t want to continue. This action always took about 20 seconds and I usually took three to five photos. Then I paid him which made screaming people quiet !

My experiences were very similar in other cities as well - Imlil, Fes and Essaouira. But it was getting better and better from a city to city. I met “shouting passers-by” only in Marrakech. Imlil lies in High Atlas Mountains. Fes is less touristic than Marrakech, there wasn’t a problem to take ordinary street photos. People were accepting. But shooting people was the same as in Marrakech. And Essaouira is totally free - there are a lot of tourist. Essaouira people are used to tourist with cameras and they more or less tolerate us.

My question is:
Where is the problem with photographing in Morocco?

After three days in Marrakech I was trying to figure out where the problem with photographing in Morocco was. And I little bit focused on this topic. I started to ask people where is the problem with making photos of them, their shops, products etc. and in general I got the following answers:

  • I had a 30- minute talk with one Moroccan man and he told me that tourists come to his country and take photographs only of disabled people, blind beggars, rubbish on the streets, mule shits on the streets and other “not very nice” things. When these tourists publish their photos as “This is the Morocco!” , other tourists get the wrong impression and are surprised when they visit Morocco. Try to find photos of Marrakech train station - really nice and modern building. Or ski resorts in High Atlas, beach resorts or photos from “new towns” (not from Medina). It’s a totally different point of view of this country. Following the main idea of this talk, here is a big new topic for me about responsibility - to be able to show places which I visited in their real light and not to disgrace local people who live in these places ...
  • Religion - I just accepted this reason without any more questions.
  • My first personal experience - the young people try to protect the elderly men. When I made portraits of elderly men, they shouted at me and stopped when I paid them. I perceived it as a protection of those old men. They calmed down when I gave some money to these people.
  • And my second personal experience (mostly from Imlil) - when I asked some people for a permission to take photos of them, they prohibited it. I accepted it and turned my camera away from them. Then some of them smiled at me ;o), nodded their heads and gave me an additional permission to take a picture. But they didn’t look into my lens and the photos looks like as if they were made without their permissions.
Well, this was a big lesson for me (not only about taking photos) ;o) But the result is good - if you keep the rules you can take pictures of Moroccan streets or people. I think it is good when people protect their privacy from tourists´ cameras. Following this idea, you can find the special hidden spirit of Morocco which cannot be seen on the pictures. I have a lot of unforgettable memories from parts of Medina where there weren’t lots of tourists ;o)