This was the first time that the guys from “The Raw Society” included the small town of Tafraoute Sidi Ali in their Morrocco Photo Tour itinerary and it was also my first trip with them, even though I have known them for more than a year now.
From the moment we set foot in Tafraoute, it was magical… We stopped to eat in a small restaurant, if you can call it that, where we began integrating with the local people. We chatted with them and were able to take pictures of everyone. It was also in this small restaurant that we met ‘wolf of the desert’ (or so he claimed his name to be), an authentic Berber who spoke seven languages and shared with us some of his many incredible adventures.
My story is precisely about this…About how in a photographic journey, one can (and should) integrate with the people of the places they visit…
As an amateur photographer, I have always been curious about street photography, which is the genre in which I feel most comfortable. Until my trip to Morocco, I had always taken pictures of people on the street, scenes or people that appeared interesting to me, but…without ever interacting with them…always taking pictures (more or less boldly) of completely anonymous people.
But this all changed in Tafraoute Sidi Ali…
To give you an idea, Tafraoute Sidi Ali is a small town where some 50 families live. (To the question of how many inhabitants the town had, one man answered “about 50 houses”). In the middle of a semi-desert area that can only be accessed by 4×4 via dirt roads, Tafraoute is a place where those who have a small motorcycle (or moped) have a treasure and where the furniture in most houses consist of a carpet and a small table where tea is served.
After eating and leaving our bags at the hotel (just 200 meters from the center), we went for a walk with our cameras in hand.
The interaction with the locals was almost immediate…a mere 10 minutes after leaving the hotel we were surrounded by a group of children between 5 and 8 years who stayed with us until there was no light left to shoot and we were forced to retire to our hotel. We played ball with them, toured their homes and chatted (or rather, sign-languaged) with them and their families over tea.
As we chatted away and played, we were taking pictures of course, and this brought on a discussion about whether we were somehow “taking advantage” of these kind strangers (I interact with you but in exchange I take a picture of you…). It was a very interesting conversation with an ethical component that is always very present (at least in my case).
Finally, Jorge convinced me of the contrary when he spoke about documenting a way of life. That is, we were there on a photographic trip (with the aim of learning and improving our photography), but also with the objective of documenting and through our photography, explaining how those people live. There was nothing wrong in showing how people lived, in an environment so different from ours…In fact, not once were we asked for anything in return and in the end, it became evident to me that the locals were as curious about us as we were about them.
We walked through the town for two or three hours…We visited Ali’s store (If I remember correctly, it was the only store in town), we had tea at the home of 2 families: one with a group of women who did not stop laughing with Christelle and admired Deb’s (my Canadian traveling companion) blonde hair and blue eyes, and another that turned out to be the village chief’s house, where they gave us dates, nuts and more tea…We also visited the mosque and the two village schools, interacting with every living soul we encountered.
We learned that local people survive thanks to the cultivation of dates or the sale of animals (such as goats or chickens), especially since the border between Algeria and Morocco was closed (before, the main means of survival was smuggling).
After a long and busy day, we finally went to the hotel to sleep. The next morning, I was awakened by the sound of the wind, a roaring sound like I had never heard before…we were in the midst of a sandstorm!!
It was still very early, but there was some light, so I took my camera and headed back into town. Five minutes later, a couple of the guys we had met the day before joined me. Together, we woke up some of the older boys (who sleep outside the houses, on a kind of wooden pallet) and I noticed that it was the responsibility of the younger children to feed the animals (chickens, goats, donkeys, dromedaries…). Being part of that incredible moment, made my trip with the guys from The Raw Society so worth it.
After the trip and back in my own home I realised that, contrary to what I thought, interacting with people and knowing their stories while taking pictures gives the moment and photograph itself a special value. It turns the simple “click” into a lasting experience.
When Jorge and Christelle asked me to write an entry in their blog (of which I am honoured) they told me to “explain whatever you want about the trip”, and Tafraoute Sidi Ali instantly came to mind because it was where my way of taking photos changed forever.
A big thank you David, for sharing your experience.
Dear readers, if you want to see more of David’s work check out his Instagram Page
Want to have your own incredible experience? Don’t miss out on our next epic adventure to Morocco!
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