When I first went to Morocco in the 1970s, I fell in love with the country. I felt like I had fallen into a painting by Brueghel. Then I went back to find certain places, to relive the initial emotion. What first seduced me was the order of things and life in the countryside. There was a splendid harmony between shapes, colors, daily gestures and nature. The importance of family, group, religion also fascinated me. In the Moroccan countryside, it was habit, custom, which dominated and designated who everyone should be and do according to rules, religious or secular. (…)
During the 1970s, with my Volkswagen bus, I traveled the same Moroccan route several times to see places as contrasting as the High Atlas and the desert, the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. The people there were extremely diverse, from one tribe or from one city to another, they had different clothes, customs, reactions towards the foreigner, the photographer moreover. I thus learned how to behave to photograph in Marrakech or in Fez, in Essaouira or in Erfoud: each city had its keys which, up to a certain point, made it possible to be accepted there.
There, I finally learned to photograph by getting close to people. At first very impressed by the harmony that existed between the landscape and its inhabitants, I worked rather with telephoto lenses which “pressed” several shots into one. Then, I learned little by little to photograph the inhabitants up close without being noticed too much, not to feel physically present, to forget my body to focus only on my emotions and my reflexes as a photographer. I prefer to go unnoticed so that people give more of themselves, but I also appreciate the surprise of the irruption of a body in the image for example.
Thus, this work on Morocco probably says as much about me as of the country I photographed. It is in no way a journalistic account, the usefulness of which I do not deny, but which interests me little. Nor do I claim to show all of Morocco, nor to have “covered” this country as a reporter covers his subject. What matters to me is that each photo has its strength, and that we can link them together, read them as praise rather than as a story or a travel diary. For me, in fact, delving into a subject like Morocco is an experience, a discipline of life, and much less a reportage whose mechanisms and constraints I want to avoid. Political and social issues, for example, do not come to the fore in my images. I am not unaware of poverty, unemployment or cities that are constantly growing with precarious housing.
But that’s another story, another way of looking at things. We do not reproach a novelist for not being interested in a subject other than his own. It should be the same for photography which has often been too attached to the description of an “expected objective reality”. Nevertheless, I hope that my photos communicate something essential about Morocco. The subject remains very important to me, it is not the simple pretext of an approach that would then be purely aesthetic: it is perhaps not my primary concern, but it is the element that forces us to get out of oneself to try to understand another reality. It’s all about the balance between reality and yourself.
– Harry Gruyaert
Text taken from the book Morocco to be published on October 28, 2023 by Éditions Textuel.