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


Hannah and her Moroccan Secret Garden

Here we all are, a group of white American girls with cameras hoisted to our faces trying to snatch one picture—just one—where the baby camels’ heads are actually facing forward. This could have surmised the whole month spent trekking down the coast of Morocco. Alas, I underwent a bit of a wake-up call.

What exactly gives rise to that deep-seated urge to snap a picture? How do I, a westernized American choosing to travel outside my normative lens, decide on what images to freeze in time and take back home with me? For some, the camera is an extended finger, excitedly pointing out stereotyped exotic splendors whose foreign appeal is ironically a product of expectation. But after spending time in Meknes and desperately trying to learn Darija, it became painstakingly apparent that the camera is a dangerous force and I am called as a traveler in an unfamiliar land to wield it with discernment. I cannot merely isolate and capture elements I scarcely understand. A photo is paradoxically a truth and a lie – a single angle compels the viewer’s attention to submit to a premeditated focalization. One photo 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. As the photographer, I must be weary of what I am conveying to others.

I transgress and begin at the end of my trip—the Prado in Madrid, one of the most famous museums in the world and home to the notorious el Greco, Goya, and Velasquez. A museum guide left me with a single artistic word: escorzo. The meaning of the word evades a precise English translation. Rather, it is something made corporeal in the quivering el Greco figures; it is there in muscles like vapor, like shadows of water intermittently surfacing the canvas and distending outward from some holy atmosphere in contours that writhe and yield to some divine cause. The word is also applicable to Velasquez and Goya—in figures that claim their own space, volume, and depth by simultaneously conveying to the viewer a sense of the weighty physical world alongside an elusive fiction or something that defies reality. A truth and a lie. A picture that feels real, and yet reveals an illusion masterfully embedded in paint and artistic craftsmanship.

A picture is a choice – a statement made by the artist that has incredible influence over the very paradigm of the viewer’s personal world. A picture can shatter assumptions, fortify stereotypes, or draw conclusions far beyond a viewer’s expectations. With a single shift in focus, a picture 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 to know about me is I continue to grapple with capturing other people. I resonate with the old Native American fear of white men’s camera devices. With the rise of portraiture in the late 1800s, the Native Americans fervently believed that pictures taken of an individual removed a piece of the subject’s soul. Walking down the narrow allies of Tangier, I recognize my privilege; I am a stranger privy to strange sights, traversing the private hallways and rooms inside someone else’s house. I walk down narrow allies; I squeeze past women pouring buckets of soapy water down a hill, hanging laundry. Kids play with what look like spools of thread, leaping over napping cats and weaving around me like water around a stone in a stream. There are saturated Cerulean-blue-and-white-walled backstreets, barber shops situated on tight corners, pockets of Qur’anic schools, the smell of hashish, a hundred doorways with every turn and there, sitting in a doorway, is an old woman watching me watch her in unabashed curiosity. Though there is beauty, I understand little of my surroundings. How can I collect the faces that are intrinsically tied to the in and out movements of a place I cannot know? How can I begin to speak to you, dear reader, about the woman I saw sitting in the doorway watching me wade through her front step space?


Fig on Moroccan FarmI didn’t, to say the least, take many pictures of other people. Rather, I tried to sketch them in my mind’s eye after engaging in some form of conversation. Walking down those streets in Tangier, 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 for a moment. There was something moving in the way I watched her and she watched me. There was something real, and something not unlike a fiction that imaginatively tried to account for lack of context and understanding. I understand how dangerous it would have been for me to have taken her image in that moment.

What pictures I do possess from my time in Morocco are grounded in an acute sensual realism or else serve as an anomaly to cultural presumptions. Some of the pictures are too fleeting to be objectified, honing in on a specific texture, taste, smell, or aesthetic that resists categorization. What exactly am I looking at? A viewer may ask of my pictures. I prefer an open dialogue to static images. I like my art to remain incomplete—it begs a question.


Yellow Wall of Mosque

Eye of the Camel Tile Mosque Morocco Pic

Pictures have become great conversational 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. Nowhere else can these instances I’ve captured be uprooted and repositioned in a different story for they are so utterly mine in the subtle idiosyncrasies. Pictures can only carry a viewer so far, and where they are limited, I must rely on the collection of stories that burn on their own independent accord and carry a sense of mystery more human and complete than any one image.


%d bloggers like this: