Les Maroccans

Leila Alaoui

“The Moroccans” is a photographic series of contemporary live size portraits, shot in a mobile photo studio across Morocco.

Historically, Moroccans have too often been represented from the exotic and sometimes “orientalist” point of view of Western photographers. My motivation was to re-visit the portrait practice and show Morocco in a way that I consider more natural, though no less objective, through the eyes of a native Moroccan. Knowing that my vision cannot be devoid of any form of subjectivity, I wanted to at least maintain a reasonable neutrality in my approach and make aesthetic choices to break away from usual folkloric representations.

Inspired by Robert frank’s “The Americans” and Richard Avedon’s “In the American West”, I embarked on a road trip across the country to photograph men, women and children of all ages, from diverse ethnic and tribal groups, Arabs and Berbers, in various urban and rural regions of Morocco. I encountered many difficulties shooting portraits in a land where people have strong superstitious apprehensions towards the camera, and often see photography as a tool that steals the soul of people.  Nonetheless, I was able to convince many to participate in the adventure, while setting up my portable studio in public places, souks (markets) and other private gatherings.

Since many Moroccans have rarely been photographed in this manner, no direction was needed as they naturally strike the same straightforward pose, looking intensely into the camera. Intimated by the burst of the flash, they automatically step out of the studio after the first click, leaving me only with a one shot opportunity. I also chose to photograph Moroccans isolated from their environments in front of a black background with artificial flash lights, using techniques of studio fashion photography rather than classical lighting often used in travel photography.  My approach follows a more contemporary aesthetic, with strong artificial lighting and a sharp depth of field that brings out the intensity of details. I favor cold color tonalities to contrast with the warm and exotic natural colors of Morocco. I also chose to photograph all portraits using identical lighting and framing to create a visual unity.

“The Moroccans” is an ongoing project. Its images are an attempt to bear witness to the rich cultural and ethnic diversity of Morocco, an archival work on the aesthetics of disappearing traditions.

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