Marrakech, the challenge Ignacio Santana

Marrakech, the challenge Marrakech, the magical red city of Morocco, is undoubtedly the most complicated place to take portraits I have ever known. But, instead of giving up, I decided to take it as an exciting photographic challenge.

Marrakech, the challenge Marrakech, the magical red city of Morocco, is undoubtedly the most complicated place to take portraits I have ever known. But, instead of giving up, I decided to take it as an exciting photographic challenge.

It is a fantastic city which has enchanted me because it is full of life, colours, smells and flavours. Here you can find many attractive possibilities to take good pictures although Marrakech is hostile when we focus our camera towards one of its inhabitants. Previously to go there, I asked about it to some friends of mine, also photographers, who told me that it had been practically impossible for them to take portraits. In addition to this, I consulted publications of photographers as well known as Steve McCurry. Maybe I am wrong, but I had the feeling that they had not been able to take many photographs of people in Marrakech either. Of course, I was looking forward to travelling to Marrakech and facing this challenge. I have taken many photographs, especially portraits, in many places around the world. However, the first time I visited Marrakech I immediately knew that it would not be easy to take good pictures of people. In fact, as soon as I arrived, I left the wonderful riad where I was staying inside the Medina, and while walking through the narrow streets I tried to take a picture of a man who was dragging a barrow but he covered his face and shouted at me in a bad mood. I kept trying to take pictures in the famous Jemaa El Fna square and also inside the souk. But although I asked permission, used good manners and smiled, nobody allowed me to take pictures.

So I thought I should change my technique and use some tricks if I wanted to get some portraits. I don’t like to take stolen photos, at least if I can, and I only do it when I don’t want to alter the scene or miss the right moment. But in this case, I had no other options. Therefore, I went back to the riad and changed my clothes for a more discreet one, I made certain settings to my camera assuming that I would probably not be able to obtain high-quality photos, and thought about how taking advantage of every single chance. As I have always said to myself, “a bad photo is better than no photo.” I returned to the street determined to use everything I knew about street photography. Fortunately, this time I got enough photographs of people without them noticing that I was photographing them. The day before returning home I met a young salesman and asked him why they did not want to be photographed. He replied that they were fed up with tourists who only treated them like objects, without asking permission to take photos and giving nothing in return. Already back home I did not stop thinking about what he said. This was why I made a decision: I needed to go back to Marrakech. I organized the second of the four trips I have made to Morocco. But this time I printed several copies of the photographs I took on my first trip and took them with me to Marrakech. I looked for the people I photographed, it was very hard, but I found almost everyone and gave them their printed photos. As an example, I remember the man selling candy in the souk, who kept watching me angry while I tried to take a picture of him. In the end, I got his picture by putting my wife in front pretending to take the picture of her, but really focusing my camera on him.

When I returned and went to his tiny shop, he looked at me seriously because he reminded of me. I just told him: “I have a present for you,” and I gave him his picture. At that moment everything changed, he was very surprised, smiled and hugged me. Whenever I have returned to Marrakech I usually take with me some printed photos or show my photos published on the Internet to the people I want to photograph. I ask permission from them to post their photos and I thank them for their kindness. The result can be seen, above all, in the last ten photographs of this project that I have titled: Marrakech, the challenge. Wherever you are and whatever happens, remember that making a portrait is much more than a simply clicking

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