After a breakfast of croissants & pancakes, we settled down for the mornings lesson. First call of order was a discussion about the different types of lenses and their uses. We performed an exercise of shooting passport style shots with three different types lenses. The purpose was to show that different lenses are suited to different jobs. A point well illustrated by some comically distorted images taken with the wide angle lenses.
We were then given our first assignment. We have been commissioned to produce three images for Conde Nast Traveller magazine. We were to go out and photograph still life images and present these to be critiqued the next day. Jon & Mike would be looking for islamic architecture and recurring motifs and the results also judged on uniqueness and how well they fitted the brief.
I wasn’t really sure what sort of images would appear in Conde Nast as it not a magazine that I am familiar with. There fore my focus was in images of textiles and patterns appearing in walls. Essaouira has a seemingly limitless number of doors with character. All weather beaten, cracked and featuring rusting door handles. I decided that I would try and capture a few of these. I started off by heading down some of the back alleys and immediately felt uncomfortable. Every time that I tried to take a picture a shopkeeper would appear and block the image. Often I would be shouted at and verbally chased away. In other allies I distinguish the occasional word in French and determine that I was being insulted. Not the greatest encouragement for someone that already has fears of crowds and public places.
Getting nowhere I headed out of the alleys and into more familiar ground. Here I met much of the same problems. Part of this was due to my own difficulties with the camera. I have effectively had to relearn how to expose an image. Previously I would shoot images on aperture priority mode. I would set the aperture depending on the depth of field that I wanted to achieve. The camera would then decide the shutter speed. If I disagreed with it, then I would dial in exposure compensation until it was wanted. Having done this for years, I could do this quickly and easily. Now, I (and the rest of the group) are shooting in completely manual mode. I don’t have a problem in doing this technically, but I am just nowhere near the speed that I was previously. In some ways this is good as it slows down the entire process, thus forcing me to think more about the shot in hand. However, as I’ve been shooting all kinds of subjects the camera has not often been anywhere near the settings that I need it to be locked into. By the time that I have dialled in, the subject has either noticed me or a shopkeeper has come to chase me away. Speaking to Mike about the issue, he told me that with experience I will gain a good idea of what I will need before I meter the subject. This will allow me to hang back from my real subject and have the camera in a good base position by the time I come to compose. Then I can quickly adjust as needs be.
To be honest I was having a pretty miserable time of it and starting to wish that I was anywhere but here. I bumped into Claudia, another of the group members. She told me that she was feeling pretty miserable as well as she had been having many of the same difficulties with the shopkeepers. We decided to team up for the rest of the day. Just having someone with me felt instantly better. We headed away from the main streets and into the alleys to the West of the medina. We generally concentrated on door and and reliefs carved into the wall. Just walking around and stopping occasionally as one of had seen something to shoot. On the occasions Claudia stopped, I tried to see what she was photographing. Sometimes this was easy, a door handle for example. Other times I could not tell at all. One of the most interesting things I’ve noticed is how we all see things so differently. Something that jumped out for her, is something that I would have walked past, and vies-versa.
I was in one of these alleys that we met Mohad. We were photographing a particularly rustic door when a young man approached us and asked what we were taking pictures of. Mohad spoke a little English and a lot of French. Claudia is Swiss and the two of them engaged in conversation which I could very occasionally follow as I picked up the odd word here and there. Claudia would stop and translate anything on which I was looking particularly lost. My french has never been great and I haven’t been recently I am hopelessly out of touch. I can discern words and then place into some sort of context, but find myself unable to reply as I cannot remember the phasing quickly enough. Mohad invited us into his home which was the one that we had been bracing ourselves against hen he arrived.
Entering the building the air cooled considerably. The house was cool, but not too cold – for me at least. Ushering us through to his living room / bedroom he cleared a space for us on his couch. The décor reminded me of every bachelor pad I’ve ever seen. A few cans sprinkled around, a couple of unwashed cups and a little litter. He cleaned quickly and in that embarrassed fashion that I have performed myself many times when an unexpected guest arrived. The room itself was fairly small, with only a single window to let in the light. This was covered with a carpet so very little light arrived in the room. Mohad put on some music. A kind of trance with Moroccan undertones. He then told us that he had made it himself and that he was a musician. He mixes and creates tracks on his computer, also playing bass and drums on his tracks. He occasionally sells CD’s at a store in the medina called the Africa Shop. He would sell more but the CD’s are expensive to produce. The album was called Dream House and I’m going to find the store and see if they have any copies.
Mohad offered us mint tea. I’ve not drank tea or coffee in about 8 years, but I thought that it would be very rude to decline so happily accepted it. It was very sweet and sugary, not at all how I remembered tea being. It was not unpleasant though, and I had a second glass when offered. We stayed for quite a while, just talking about where we came from and Mohads music. After all the annoyance and rudeness that we had felt all day, it was if Essaouira had conjured up Mohad to let us know that this can be a very friendly and welcoming place. We took some photos of Mohad and made our way down to the port to catch the sunset.
As far as the assignment went, don’t feel that I really captured what it called for. I played safe with my interpretation, but did get a few shots that I like that fall out the remit of the assignment. But getting to know someone else from the group better, meeting Mohad and finally shaking off that ring rust meant that it was a sucessful day in my eyes. In the eyes of the critics though….?
In the evening we went to a very nice restaurant called Patio and had a very nice meal. Then nearly everyone went for a drink at a very posh hotel near our. Everyone was so releaxed and I had a great time laughing and joking with them all. I certainly feel a lot more connected with everyone then when I began the day.