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How Street Photography Stole My Heart

Originally published in 2014 on Street Level Photography.

23rd February 2012. The day I became hooked. I had taken an Easyjet flight to Marrakech as an antidote to cold grey England with my photographer friend Colin Lines. I’d seen many a photo made there and it seemed a colourful getaway for a couple of photographers longing for some warmer sun on their backs and a new challenge.

Back then, I thought of myself more of a landscape photographer than a chronicler of street life, but this day saw the start of a change. Instead of a bag full of lenses, a DSLR and a tripod, I carried a small mirrorless Olympus PEN canera and 40mm equivalent lens that I could tuck away into my jacket pocket. Wonderfully simple. Beautifully light. Inconspicuous, or so I thought. It turns out that Marrakech presents a huge cultural challenge for candid photography. The good people of the city aren’t keen on having their photo taken without permission. Even mighty Magnum photographers struggle in Marrakech (Marrakech: The city that distrusts photographers).

Nothing can prepare you for your first foray into the souks – the narrow, labrynthine shopping streets of the medieval Medina. It seemed that Colin and I had made rather an early start as we found ourselves dodging bicycles, mopeds and motorbikes ridden by people going to work and school, not to mention men with hand carts and donkeys carrying goods and produce of all descriptions coming from all directions with seemingly no traffic rules.

It was unnerving frankly. A scruffy looking bloke hassled us asking if we wanted a tour guide. I said no thanks in my politest French several times and stepped up the pace to get away from him. We hesitated and stopped for a hot chocolate at a cafe at the entrance to one of the souks. Soothed by the warm milky drinks which helped chase off the cool of the morning we left our table and launched into it.

Starting with tentative, furtive snaps I grew bolder as the day wore on. And then the magic started to happen. I forgot myself. I no longer cared if I got lost in the souks (which we did several times). The hassle from strangers wanting to show us the tannery became easier to brush off. Soon, you realise you are no longer getting hassle. You relax. You stick out less. You remember your O level French. Your are enjoying yourself, and before you know it, it’s mid-afternoon. How did that happen?

Candid street photography is a meditation. It feeds the soul. You discover there is no such thing as ordinary and that the street is happening very close to you; just the other side of the door to your home.

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Originally a blog about photography, I write about vintage cameras, the environment, clothes and anything else I feel moved to type about.

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