Following considerable time spent in Morocco, and the accumulation of many images, it became compelling to try to undertake a more permanent presentation of some of the photographs taken. The most moving experience for me was the time spent in Chefchaouen, in the Rif mountains, where the city is predominently painted in variants of the colour blue. It is thought that this application of blue was started by Jewish inhabitants who considered blue to be closer to heaven, and the colour was applied liberally throughout the city. There is also considerable parts of the nearby coastal city Essaouira painted blue, and this is a city recognised as the site of primary occupation of Jewish communities throughout Morocco. Perhaps there is a correlation.
My time in Chefchaouen was made infinitely more cheerful by staying within a traditional Moroccan building called the Small White Palace.
Previous to the current owner, a Dutch artist called Liesbeth, it had been owned by a Moroccan family for generations whose many relatives had lived there. Liesbeth had renovated the property sympathetically and had decided to continue to present it in white, corresponding with its name. For the most part of 2 months I stayed with Liesbeth, but occasionally visited her daughter’s charming family in Tangier ( or Tanger as the family pronounce it ). From Tangier we visited the ballet in Tetouan and film presentations at the Cinema Rif, a major hanging out space for artists and creatives in Tangier owned by the famous Moroccan photographer Yto Barrada.
The majority of the time however I remained in Chefchaouen and took to exploring the nooks and crannies of the city’s unique appearance. The city itself can be traced back to the 1400s and rapidly swelled in size due to escaping Jewish families settling there from Andalucia as they fled the returning Christian monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella and their routing of the Moors in Spain. Many of the buildings and mosques the settlers built can still be seen. The Small White Palace was also situated next to a Zaouia, or Sufi/Islamic place of education and socialising, which stimulated a subsequent interest in these institutions.
Some of the photographs from this exploration I have collected into a book now available from photobook publishers Blurb. They are mostly abstract images, focussing on found objects, unusual viewpoints and open and shut doorways, hinting at occupation but betraying no definite identification of citizens as they wander around the city leading everyday lives. The anonymity is reinforced by a quotation from Paul Bowles, words written in his own nihilistic style, prescient but equally contemporaneous if one stands still for several moments and allows the time continuum to flow over one both backwards and forwards at one and the same time. It is strange, but ultimately no surprise, that the future always seems unutterably defined by the past.
Another factor of my stay in Chefchaouen was the illness of a good friend of mine who had achieved much in the support of others throughout his life, including the astonishing task of housing the winter homeless in London for 5 years. He also believed in speaking ‘truth to power’ and made powerful enemies following his return.
Throughout the early stages of his illness I sent photographs most days from Chefchaouen, which he felt helped him. He particularly felt moved by the image which heads this blog entry and believed it was the pathway he would take when he died. He died in April.
Paul Bowles’ words are as follows :
Things will go on like this forever,
Nothing shall shatter
No blade of grass shall be there
Nothing but blue rocks shall fill the valley where I sleep
Blue City is below. Clicking on it will lead to a preview of the book on the Blurb website.