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Washing up a melancholic truth – A rainy day in Marrakech

It was almost as if the rain had washed away any traces of an identity we – the tourists, travelers, photographers, writers – gave Marrakech over the years, and had now revealed a much more accurate truth of a city usually depicted as way more colorful and exciting than it really is. But not that day. Gone were the beautiful and rich colors – and smells of various spices and freshly cooked foods usually experienced in Marrakech. Instead, I was witness to a grey and flavorless, almost melancholic, truth of the so-called red city – unfolding a deeper drama of mundane life right in front of me and thus catching my deepest interest.

Wandering through almost deserted streets, I was able to catch a glimpse of a reality totally concealed to most of the foreign visiting public, a reality filled with boredom and uselessness – there was no need for artificial excitement for there were simply no tourists present who had to be artificially kept excited. The only people around, despite a few stray visitors like myself, were Moroccans going their way or hiding from rain underneath a canopy, in shops or by a door, and alleyways, minding their own business. I met Nick at Café de France later that day. After being separated from each other for a couple of hours – we decided to part ways for some time in order to be able to focus on taking photographs without distracting one another – we sat down to drink a coffee and have a talk on the roofed balcony only minutes before a heavy rainstorm hit us. As the people seated in the front row of the balcony started fleeing from the fierce rain, Nick and I – seated in the much safer back row – were rewarded with an excellent view of the usually heavily populated Jemaa El Fna square. We watched in awe as the storm got heavier, several lightning strikes occurred and people all over the square ran around seeking shelter.

The sky cleared up and the storm ended just as fast as it had begun, and we continued our journey through Marrakech together. Drawn to a crowd of people standing in front of a huge but unobtrusive building, right next to the Maison de la Photographie – which we just visited – we decided to stick around and observe the scene for a little while. It quickly turned out that this building was in fact an elementary school about to end classes, and soon the people in front of it were greeted by dozens of children rushing out of the school screaming, chanting and laughing – young lives invigorating the lifeless streets again.

Quickly backing off to an opposite wall while joyfully watching the kids being hugged by their benevolent mothers and fathers, I looked around and noticed five to six men approaching really fast, carrying a gurney loaded with something unidentifiable, covered up only by a white sheet. Seemingly unnoticed by the parents – there was just too much commotion going on – the men slowed down while shouting and simultaneously pushing their way through the crowd. Catching a glimpse of what was hidden beneath the sheet, it was then I realized that they had loaded the dead body of a young boy onto a bier, carrying him as fast as they could through the narrow streets of Marrakech to whatever their final destination was.

A man who stood right next to me – and one of the very few having noticed the load too – told me in french that he had heard about the recent tragedy of a young boy being struck by a speeding car, not far away from the very school he and other parents were standing in front of, eagerly waiting to pick up their children. “Il est mort,“ he said with a toned down voice, and sounded certain about that young boy’s fate. “They are rushing him to a nearby hospital, but it’s already too late. He’s dead. It happens a lot around here. People are getting hit by cars almost every day. It is horrible. You just can not be careful enough,“ he continued, shortly before embracing his son and with him vanishing hand in hand around the corner.

Pictures of Marrakech – and Morocco in general – usually show us only the sunny days, the vivid markets, the tasty food, the carefully prepped up tourist attractions of the Medina, the architecture, smiling elderly people, cats and donkeys – or all sorts of things and animals – creating a wide variety of colorful and playful motives – as seen in some of my other images too. But a beautiful color palette doesn’t matter if there is no light to be shined on by it. I guess, in a way, that was the reason for me to shoot mostly in black and white that day – so Marrakech, the red city, could remain grey and sunless for a day, mourning the loss of another son.

“We like to pretend that what is public is what the real world is all about,“ Saul Leiter once said. But the truth is, there is always another world hidden beneath the obvious and purposefully displayed, a world that’s not often been photographed or recreated countless times before due to its mundane and unspectacular nature. But it is not sensationalism that drives me or that I seek in my photographs, it’s the ordinary lives of ordinary people that interests me. During that day – while aimlessly roaming through Marrakech at first – I was somehow able to catch a glimpse of exactly this reality I’m seeking and I am deeply grateful for having experienced this.

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Alexandre Kurek
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