Berber Portrait & thoughts on Film

This is one of my favourite shots from the films I got back from Morocco. Situated in the north part of Marrakech, he was actually sleeping in a big metal wheel barrow when I came across him. The streets are filled with smells, sounds, activity - sensory overload. So I think I was drawn to him because he was stationary. Anyway, he was one of the most willing participants I had. Sometimes a photo just falls into place, other times it takes a while to get it right. This one just fell into my lap. morocco031.jpg

I've finished editing the Portra Morocco shots. I just need some time now to put them up on my site. They are similar to my Cuba and Cambodia shots. I just feel so much more happy about them compared to my previous Morocco shots. The colours are right this time, I've got a lot more portraits too. First time I went to Morocco I came home with a few sparse portraits because I hadn't learned what it took to get them. The culture is difficult, people don't respond to tourists like they do in Cambodia (warm, welcoming) or Cuba (discreet, proud). The Moroccan is a distant person, privacy is valued much more, highly religious, general culture make for very difficult photo taking and I'm not going to do candid shots because it's so easy to offend someone.

Anyway, regarding film, my first shock was how grainy it is. After using digital for a few years now, it took a bit of adjustment to going back to looking at grainy film. But conversely, I had to do very little to the images - the colours were there, and that 'texture' or '3D' look or 'glow'. Conversely, digital is flat, you have to work at bringing the colours out, and when doing that, it really screws with skin tones.

It's hard to describe, and I guess I shouldn't need to. If you need me to describe the different look and feel that each medium has - then you can't see it.

Wool dyeing in the Souks of Marrakech

It was tough. Making photographs in Morocco wasn't easy. The more I go through the films from Morocco, It is all coming back to me. Here's a shot from the Souks of Marrakech. These guys are dying wool that is used to make a lot of the Moroccan textiles. I remember walking past them and thinking how great it would be to get a candid shot of them doing their work.


I could see two possibilities. One was that they would agree, but the image would lose any spontaneity that I found attractive in the first place. The second option was that I would get my candid shot. I had no idea until this evening if I'd got something, and as usual, it isn't what I expected, but in many ways, it's much better than I'd hoped for.

What I like about this shot is that the main guy on the left has a very serious natural look on his face while in the immediate background his work mate is unaware of the camera. Notice the steam coming off the dyed wool. Compositionally, both subjects balance each other out and give the image symetry.

On a technical note, this was shot using the 50mm Mamiya 7 lens - that's roughly equivalent to a 24mm in 35mm land. So it's a wide angle. I normally shoot people shots with the 80 and it's a real pain to have to anticipate which lens to have on the camera body most of the time. I don't fancy the idea of having two Mamiya 7 bodies, because I'm really going to stand out. Which isn't the point of street photography.

First Moroccan Film Scan

Today I received my Morocco films back from the lab. They're Kodak Portra shots, C41 Processing, which means they are negatives. No contact sheets, so I'm just going through each roll, blind. This is the very first image I've just scanned tonight, and it's apparent to me that I will be shooting film for portraits from now on.


I was shooting all my material on film until about a year ago. It's been a trial to move to digital because it simply doesn't respond the same way or look similar. Digital's biggest drawback is in the realm of portraiture. I'm sure I'll be rubbing a lot of people up the wrong way, but I know because I've tried both. Rather than browse the internet for opinions, look at the images for proof, or better still, try it out for yourself.

Digital just doesn't have this look to it. The skin tones are hard to reproduce in digital, and well, there's something organic about film to my eye.

This was shot in Marrakech, near the main square. He's quite hip isn't he? I like his gelled hair, and he was very approachable. He is a modern Moroccan whereas many of the others I photographed seemed to come from a much older time.

I found a lot of the locals in Marrakech were very warm and friendly to each other, but not to the tourists.

It was a hard place to photograph as the camera is treated as a serious intrusion to their lives and religion. But now and then I'd meet someone who was a willing participant. I'll post more in the coming days as I work through the films.