May – Week 2 – Morocco

King Hassan II Mosque Window

On May 12th with friends Chris Kibre (AWE Gallery artist) and Maureen McGettigan, I flew from San Francisco to JFK to Casablanca, Morocco.  There we joined nine other photographers and leader Brenda Tharp for a two week photo tour produced by Strabo Tours. Brenda’s partner Jed Manwaring, also a photographer, was part of the journey along with Ishmael the local guide.

This was the first time I traveled with a group of photographers overseas.  That alone made it a challenge.  “Am I in someone’s viewfinder?.”  “Is that guy’s elbow in my picture again!”

The focus was on “creative travel photography.”  I found it difficult to  put the amount of time into each shoot needed to capture the dynamic image I could see in each location.  This was also due to the fact that many people, after asking them, did not want their pictures taken.  I don’t think this was only because it is a Muslim culture.

I will let you know when I have posted the portfolios from this trip. I took some 5,000 captures.  Did I really need those 200 images of a single tea ceremony?  I, unfortunately still act like a film shooter – thinking that pushing an ISO higher than 400 degrades your images.  With moving subjects going to ISO equivalents of 800 – 1,200 should be done.  Can’t say I did it though.

I am expanding my weekly two to be a weekly four or five.  My travel equipment was a Canon 7D, a 10-20mm, 18-200 and 100 – 400 mm lens.  I took a tripod because we were able to leave things safely on the bus or in our Kasbahs, Riads and hotels.  I could have gotten by with the 18 – 200 mm lens only.

Our first stop was at the King Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca (image 1).  This huge edifice is the largest mosque after the one in Mecca and its construction was funded by all citizen donations.  You can only tour the facility with one of the appointed guides.  There are only two mosques open to non-Muslims in Morocco.

Marrakech Night Market

I was surprised that our photo destinations did not include any of the other thousands of mosques that are prominent throughout the whole country side and cities.  This Mosque was completed in 1993 and truly is a show piece.  It reminded me that we dare not question the validity of any religion – could something so beautifully created by its devotees be intended for any thing other than honoring the Holy One and calling humanity to prayer and peace?

No tripods were permitted inside.  So I used my camera bag to rest my camera on while taking a beautiful latticed window and its reflection on the floor.  You don’t have to worry about the high contrast with this kind of image because that is what makes it pop!

Marrakech a three hour or so drive on a wonderfully maintained highway was our next stop.  The square and the markets (souks) were crowded with locals and tourists winding through the smells and activities.  The souks are stalls that offer just one item:  shoes, spices, nuts & dried fruit, meats, olives, silk, breads, jellabas…etc.  The jellaba is the wide sleeved hooded garment worn by both men and women

The jellaba, in various colors and designs, is what makes the people pictures so focused and colorful.  In several locations I found a great background and waited around for someone in a jellaba to be the complimenting subject.  I was happy with the image included here of the woman carrying her bed frame (image 2 above).  It also reminds me of how much physical work the women do every day!

Entering High Atlas Mountains

The Marrakech square is bustling with shoppers, carriages, motorcycles around the edges while tarps connect the” cook houses” and refreshment sellers. (image 3 above)  A mystical feel comes upon this area at dusk and evening when the smoke ascends above the strung lights.  Thanks to Brenda for bringing us to a rooftop café to capture the aura of the square.  Here the use of a tripod made the world of difference allowing me to use a slow shutter speed to capture a blurred swirling mass.

It is like traveling back in time in Marrakech with the snake charmers, fortune tellers, acrobats, dancers, and children selling tissues while an adult waits to collect their earnings.

In retrospect I would have gone back to Marrakech for a couple of days in our 5 day extension.  We did not have time to even scratch the surface of the photographic wonders there (the gardens, the palm grove, the royal palace, the gates, the city walls…etc.).  The Medina (old city) had snaking streets lined with wares beyond your imagination, musicians and the smell of candy and sizzling meats!

Leaving Marrakech we headed into the High Atlas Mountains on the road to Ait Benhaddou.  Here I used my 10-20 mm lens to get a sense of the expansive hillsides and its vegetation (poppies, mustards, olive trees).

I will add the next Morocco segments shortly.

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