A Truth and a Lie: How Do I Approach Pictures?

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Hannah and her Moroccan Secret Garden

Gangling sharp elbowed white cyclopes bumble and squawk about in confused hunchbacked herds with single bulbous metallic eyes that flash furiously in rapid blinks. “The poor ugly blokes – they can’t even see!” The camels sympathize. And that about sums up my experience in Marrakech.

What exactly gives rise to that deep-seated urge to snap a picture? How do we, as a collective group sharing a common culture and choosing to travel outside of our normative lens, decide on what images to freeze in time and take back home with us? The mass of white Cyclopes of American, German, Spanish decent certainly are of the opinion that the camera is simply an extension of their faces, congregating around stereotyped exotic splendors whose foreign appeal is ironically a product of expectation. The camera is a power and I am called as a traveler in an unfamiliar land to wield it with discernment. A photo is paradoxically a truth and a lie – a single angle that demands your attention to submit to a premeditated focalization that denies you the comfort of your peripheral judgment. You see what the photographer has allowed you to see and not a fraction of a second more.

I transgress and begin at the end of my trip. The Prado, one of the most famous museums in the world and home to the notorious el Greco, Goya, and Velasquez. The redefinition of the picture for me began with escorzo; the word is made corporeal in the quivering el Greco figures. Muscles like vapor, like shadows of water intermittently surfacing the canvas and distending outward from some holy atmosphere in contours that writhed and yielded to some divine cause. The guide broadened the term to the arresting bodies of Velasquez and Goya that claimed their own space, volume, depth – entities with physical weight and existence mixed with subtle elements that sought to deconstruct the realms of reality and fiction. The picture is a choice – a statement with incredible influence over the very paradigm of our own personal worlds. With the shift in a gaze, it can instigate revolutions of thought and cross boundaries without ever needing to take a single step.

I don’t claim much with my own photos, but there are a few conscious efforts that carry throughout. The first thing I grappled with is capturing other people. I resonate with the old Native American fear that developed in response to the white man’s shiny new camera devices. With the rise of portraiture, the Native Americans had fervently believed that pictures taken of an individual removed a piece of that subject’s soul. Walking down the narrow allies of Tangier I do not dare disrespect a privilege like that extended to a stranger who is permitted to traverse the private hallways and rooms inside someone else’s house. I squeezed past women pouring buckets of soapy water they had used to wash the family’s clothes in passing Darijan conversation, kids playing with what looked like spools of thread, leaping over napping cats and weaving between our group down the saturated Cerulean blue and white walled backstreets, barber shops situated on tight corners, pockets of Qur’anic schools, a hundred doorways with every turn and there, sitting in a doorway, an old woman watching me watch her in unabashed curiosity. How can I collect the faces that are intrinsically tied to the in and out weaving of the shared streets where motorcycles with bushels of mint zoom down cobblestone mazes and blankets of fruit and books and olives and silverware and recycled children’s playthings reach out with extended arms to the tidal humdrum of a bustling community? How can I begin to speak to you about the woman sitting in the doorway watching us wade through her front step space with eyes inspecting the parade of Americans following the guide in all their baggy elephant pants?

Fig on Moroccan Farm

I didn’t, to say the least, take many pictures of other people, opting to sketch them in my mind’s eye instead. Walking down those streets, I could not in a single snapshot tell you that the difference between the woman in the doorway and me only existed because there was first an undeniable sameness in the inquisitive dialogue our eyes engaged in if only for a moment. And it was for this reason that I had turned my head in her direction to see firsthand the novelty of this other image of God I had yet to see.  What pictures I do possess are either grounded in acute sensual response and transience or serve as an anomaly to cultural presumptions. It is too fleeting to be objectified and hones in on a specific texture, taste, smell, aesthetic that resists categorization and engages the imagination of the viewer who must ask to satiate the need to complete the picture that begs a question. Is it a piece of fruit and what did it taste like?  First, is it a camel? And second, how did you feel when you looked so closely into its eyes like that? What was its fur like and did it not spit at you? Is that a Star of David and a cross amid the distinctly Arabic geometric patterns?  Pictures become my starting points, small enough to amass an interest in the finite moments of time in order to point to the greater more profound experiences surrounding their context.

Yellow Wall of Mosque

Eye of the Camel Tile Mosque Morocco Pic

Nowhere else can these instances be uprooted and repositioned in a different story for they are so utterly mine in the subtle idiosyncrasies. Pictures can only carry so far, and where they are limited I must rely on the collection of stories that burn in their unapologetic humanity at the pit of my stomach.

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