A few years ago, I had the special privilege to travel to Morocco with a directive not any more precise than to “document the artisans and crafts of Morocco.” The opportunity was beyond incredible, but in the eyes of some, it was to be feared. Morocco is a “Muslim” country.
I was joined by seven other remarkably talented individuals – writers, bloggers, designers – from Austin and Houston. I would be one of the “official photographers,” along with the outstanding Molly Winters, because someone else had recently dropped out.
Then, as a country just a few years separated from the September 11th attacks, we were stricken by a fear of the word “Muslims” because of the media’s all-too-frequent connection to the word “terrorist” right after.
Then, as a country just a few years separated from the September 11th attacks, we were stricken by a fear of the word “Muslims” because of the media’s all-too-frequent connection to the word “terrorist” right after. I assume it was because even then, travel to Morocco was regarded as dangerous and unsafe because of it’s ties to Islam, its established state religion.
My mother and father didn’t want me to go, nor did several other elders and relatives that I conversed with about the opportunity. I remember how caught off-guard I was with that then. And in today’s world, in a climate that seems to be even more accepting of a clinched fist reaction to a religion (that counts nearly a quarter of the world’s population as followers), I am even more so. What a shame.
I remember what I saw there.
I remember the beauty I felt privileged to witness.
And I remember what I discovered about myself while on the other side of the lens.
Before I was a Creative Director, before I was a graphic designer, and before I was a writer, I was a photographer.
Photography was one of the three primary factors that led me on the course to quit my engineering job, and towards my search for creative freedom.
It was something I had a knack for immediately, something for which I am so grateful for as it has given me the ability to tell this story. In fact, I remember precisely being in awe of a camera’s ability to make “instant art” the first time I went out on a shoot.
I especially had a knack for capturing moments – the unexpected instants of truth when no one is particularly looking. And during this trip, without much setup beyond a Canon 5D Mark III on a leather camera strap, I took some of the best photos I’ve ever taken. But it wasn’t the Canon – it was Morocco.
For seven days, I was inspired by a foreign country and an unfamiliar beauty I wasn’t expecting to find.
For seven days, I was in my element – inspired by a foreign country and an unfamiliar beauty I wasn’t expecting to find.
Though my current role in my business doesn’t often allow for the chance to engage in photography any more, this reminds me of why I started this journey.
This reminds me of why I belong here.
THIS is my masterpiece.
Discovering Rabat and Establishing Respect
Rabat is Morocco’s capital with a population just under 600,000.
My memory is otherwise fuzzy about the specifics of Rabat, but what does come back to me with crystal clarity while looking back at these photos are the emotions from these moments. These emotions defined my discovery of this city and established my respect for its residents.
On our first day in Morocco, we checked in at the office of our host, the Ministry of Tourism. We were escorted into a room with ceilings of hand-carved wood, and greeted with silver trays of handmade cookies of a seemingly uncountable variety. We were treated like diplomats. And the sincerity, warmth and respect they showed all of us, was something I wanted to reciprocate through my photos.
Being personally escorted by the Arts & Tourism division of Morocco was a revelation of the respect this country had for art, and it left me wishing our own government had a fraction of this regard.
RNot too far from the official building where we made our introductions is the Kasbah des Oudaia – a medina marked with corridors of pale blue.
The open plaza at the coast’s edge had a way of putting me – or better yet, humbling me – in scale to the world’s breadth. The colors and the independence of the Moroccans as they strode between the historic Kasbah walls as part of their daily routine will be something I always remember and appreciate.
The Hands of Casablanca
In Casablanca, we visited the largest mosque in Morocco and the 13th largest in the world, the Grande Mosquée Hassan II. There, the light was so perfect that it seemed to possess its own atmosphere. And there, the people within it glowed with an ethereal beauty and prominence. It made you feel their religion. It made you realize their devotion.
Both in the hands that created it, and the hands that pray within it.
This experience made me wonder why people in our country can fail, so easily, to see the beauty in a different faith? It is rooted in goodness, dedication and community, as are most faiths.
We toured the Complex Artisanal de Casablanca, which seemed like a monestary-meets-university for craftsmanship and heritage.
The study ranged from jewelry making and tile making, to hand-chiseled wood and plaster. The attentiveness of both student and professor in every classroom captured my attention and awe the whole time.
I have never been more tuned into my surroundings. Never more excited for what moment would present itself next. Because even though I was surrounded by both the artisans and their finished works, it was still almost impossible to imagine that hands – just like yours and mine – were creating these masterpieces. In a digital age where everything is so immediate, this dedication to craft was inspiring.
Silver Cookie Trays and Moroccan Rug Dealers
The Ministry of Handicraft (yes, that exists), had arranged for us to privately tour the mansions of rug dealers, cooperatives, and artisan entrepreneurs.
I immediately connected with the exquisite form of hospitality they all provided, and the raw beauty of the structures with wall to wall tapestries that looked like works of art framed against neutral tones of clay.
While the interior designers were procuring their selection of rugs by the hectare, I explored all the floors of the complex – seeing the family and their butlers prepare not just rug presentation but a silver plattered course of Moroccan cuisine (paella, chicken tagine) – and yes, more cookies.
A beautiful traditional Moroccan meal on the rooftop for the designers, for their guests.
This was our first chance to really talk with some of our hosts, I remember how in awe we were with how much respect and knowledge they had about our politics, and about our democracy. It was one of the most intelligent and un-biased dinner conversations I’ve ever had.
The pink city of Marrakech is also home to one of the most luxuriest hotels in the world (conceived and bankrolled by the King of Morocco himself). The Royal Mansour hotel is a private 5-star resort of riads and terraces. To give you an example of the clientele, Katy Perry was staying here for her 30th birthday celebration during our tour.
It was opulent without ostentation.
Morocco Day 5 –
Morocco Day 6 –
Morocco Day 7 –