North Africa | Travel Portraits
"A portrait is not made in the camera, but on either side of it." - Edward Steichen
North Africa is geographically defined by the Sahara desert in the south, the Atlas mountains in the west, and the Nile River and delta in the east - just think of the adventures to be had in such a diverse landscape of natural wonders!
My travels through North Africa included Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania, but the region has a strong allure and I feel a calling to return. I dream of returning to North Africa to visit ancient sites in Egypt and North Sudan, and explore the Sahara on a multi-night expedition.
The people of North Africa share a common heritage and ethnicity, anchored in the history of the Berbers inhabiting the western region since the beginning of recorded history, and the Egyptians spanning the eastern part. Then between A.D. 600s and 1000s, Arabs from the Middle East carried across the region and integrated with the population. From this occurrence emerged the North African Arabic and Muslim cultures, which continues to define the cultural landscape of North Africa today.
I spent six weeks travelling through North Africa in an overland vehicle, exploring the backroads, towns and cities. Photographing portraits in this region of Africa was particularly enjoyable, because of the hospitality and warmth of the people - it wasn't uncommon to receive a dinner invitation after photographing a subject!
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MOROCCO: The traditions of the Sahara’s Desert’s Berber tribes remain strong thanks to people like him. He was one of the guides on my overnight camel tour into the Sahara, and did a fantastic job at engaging the group with Moroccan culture. He shared traditional stories and displayed an incredible talent for playing drums, which is an integral part of Moroccan society. There was a full moon that night, and he encouraged everyone to get up and dance to the music under the bright night sky.
MOROCCO: Based in Chefchaouen, "The Blue City", this gentleman had immense pride in his shop and for his country. Wanting to make the best impression, before we started the shoot he scurried about cleaning up papers and placing certain books in sight of the camera. With joy he explained the photos on the wall of him standing with various American presidents, and shared stories of his involvement with the local traditional music scene.
MOROCCO: Many Moroccans avoid photos for religious and cultural reasons, so when touring a fishing wharf I received consistent rejection from people I approached. I persevered, and a brawl began to develop as I photographed the one person who agreed to a photo. After snapping a few shots and showing the crowd the results, the brawl quickly dissipated, and suddenly everyone wanted to go next. From this experience I learned the power of photography to unite us all.
MOROCCO: Walking into chefchaouen for a day of sightseeing, we met as he sat in the cool shade above the city, working on the craft he's seen holding. Later we crossed paths again, when I noticed him off to the side of a narrow stone alleyway. He was sitting at a little wooden table, showcasing a few inexpensive trinkets and adjusting an FM radio playing Arabic news. He had a very gentle manner, and offered a huge smile when I stopped to show the photos of him from earlier.
MOROCCO: At the Jemaa el-Fnaa square in Marrakesh's medina quarter, my senses were on overdrive as I shopped for stunning artisan crafts and dined on mouth-watering cuisine. In between indulging in Moroccan sweets and souvenirs, I met this young woman who was offering henna tattoos to tourists. I was looking to photograph a woman wearing traditional clothing, and she was enthusiastic to participate. She was dressed traditionally, but loved telling me about her modern lifestyle in Marrakesh.
MOROCCO: Travelling the highway to Marrakesh, tourists can stop at points of interest popular for their high vantage, and entertaining photo opps offered by locals for a small fee.
While most tourists are only looking for a quick cell phone photo, I on the other hand require 10-15 minutes minimum to work through speedlight flash settings and perfecting a subject’s pose. I was thrilled to have the chance to photograph this local, who had endless patience for getting the photo just right.
MOROCCO: I could have spent weeks in Marrakesh’s medina quarter photographing the local people. Since I hadn’t started using guides at this point in the trip, unfortunately many of the elder subjects didn’t speak English and it was difficult to get their personal story. With people like this woman though, who posed with such grace, beauty and honesty, I can still appreciate the photo and am proud of her for participating.
MOROCCO: At first she declined my request to photograph her, but for some reason she decided to be bold and participate, and I'm so glad she did. She exudes strength, determination and pride in this portrait. During the shoot, when directing my travel partner on how to hold my speedlight flash, I shared a side glance with her. I could tell she appreciated my equally strong female character.