Two women and baby.
This is one of my all time favourite photographs. I find it really difficult to photograph people, especially people I don’t know. Because I prefer to use a wide-angle lens for most of my images, that means that to get a decent shot of someone, I have to get really close. You can only get that close if you have properly engaged with them. In Turkey or Morocco that becomes particularly difficult as women, especially, generally prefer not to be photographed…even the men can be uncomfortable. And why shouldn’t they be? I would also prefer not to be photographed by a complete stranger or tourist. I’m constantly ducking out of the way when I see a tourist in Bath pointing a camera in my direction.
This image was taken in a scruffy town in Cappadocia called Derinkuyu. I had had to catch a tourist bus to get from Goreme to Ihlara because there was no public transport. This involved a stop in Derinkuyu because it has an underground ‘city’ that is on the tourist trail. I had already seen it and so I had about an hour to spend whilst waiting for the other tourists to visit the site. As I wandered around the centre, I saw a group of women with some children sitting and making lace. I immediately wanted to take a photograph and so I approached them slowly and held my camera up to indicate that I would like to take a photograph. Their first reaction was to say OK but with a certain reserve. I took one general shot of them all but the atmosphere was a bit chilly so I got out some balloons that I carry [to give to children when they present themselves for photographs but then ask for money. I’ve read in several guide books that giving money for photographs only encourages begging and balloons or biros are a better gift]. So, I got out some balloons and gave them to the children. This completely changed the atmosphere and for a while I was busily engaged with helping them to inflate the balloons. They then ran off to play with them and the women seemed a lot friendlier as a result. Then the woman on the right of my photograph beckoned to me and invited me to photograph a baby that had been all but invisible to me as it was rapped-up in a bundle of clothing between her and the woman on the left. I assume that the younger woman was the mother and judging from her pride, the other woman was the grandmother. Now, I confess to being a bit naughty with what I did next. I approached them and assumed that they wouldn’t know the difference between a wide angle lens or otherwise and because I thought that I would only get one shot, I went really close but was able to get the two women in the frame too. You can see from the photo that they are completely relaxed because they probably didn’t think they were being photographed. For me, a perfect result but should I have done that? The jury is still out on that one.
Photographing children in the West has become a real ‘hot potato’ in recent years and I completely understand why. However it’s almost the reverse in Islamic countries…it’s the adults that don’t generally like being photographed but the children will often present themselves and the adults seem to support them. In fact they will look really disappointed if you don’t take a photo.
In retrospect, I feel compelled to mention the only potrait I have ever taken of a woman in Morocco. Aicha was a woman unlike any other I’d encountered on my travels in Morocco. Ed and I were on our way from Azrou in the Mid Atlas to Er Rachidia in the South. We had reached a desolate area approaching the Ziz Valley, when we noticed a cafe sitting in complete isolation next to the road. We couldn’t resist stopping, despite the fact that it looked somewhat run down and possibly closed. Then we noticed that there was a car parked outside, which encouraged us to stop and check it out. As we pulled into a parking area in front of the cafe, we could see the driver of the car sitting at a very scruffy plastic table having a drink. The whole place was sand blasted and the sort of place that, had it been anywhere else, we would probably have avoided, for reasons of hygiene. But, despite Ed’s reservations, I walked into the cafe entrance to see what was on offer. It was very dark inside and did indeed look rather unhygienic but having stopped and not knowing when and where else we would encounter a ‘watering hole’ before arriving in Er Rachidia, some distance away, I thought, at the very least we might get a ‘safe’ canned drink. There was no one visible, so I called out and eventually a woman appeared and I decided to ask for two coffee’s and a bottle of water. She indicated that we should take a seat outside where the other man was seated and she would bring us our drinks. All mimed of course. Eventually she appeared with two coffee’s and said bottle of water. By this time, I had started to take in the extraordinary, sand blasted landscape and was rather intrigued by it’s isolation and how on earth anyone, let alone a single woman, could run a business in such a location. She seemed as intrigued by us as much as we were by her and she sat at our table and started talking to us, despite the fact that it must have been obvious to her that we didn’t speak any Arabic or Berber. She seemed to like us and that feeling was reciprocated. There was something different about her. Emboldened by her ‘difference’ and after some time, I asked her if I could take a photograph of her, fully expecting the usual rejection. But to my amazement, she indicated that she would like that and duly sat and allowed me to take a couple of shot’s of her and a further shot of her sitting with Ed. The only restriction she placed on the shot’s I took, was that the cigarette she had asked me for earlier [another rarity, I’d never seen a Moroccan woman smoking before], should not appear in the photograph’s. I showed her the photo’s on my camera and she approved them. I mimed that if she gave me her address, I would send her some print’s in the post. She seemed delighted and then went and got a ‘guest’ book that other traveller’s had made entries in. We wrote, in English, as had some other’s, how much we’d enjoyed our visit and went on our way. That encounter has intrigued me ever since and the cafe too. As you will see in my Morocco category, I took a few photo’s of the cafe as well and considering the whole experience only lasted about half an hour, it has lingered in my mind ever since. As soon as I returned home, I made three prints and sent them to the address she had given me. I really hope she got them and I often wonder if she knew just how rare that encounter and the photography was. I’ll probably never know. [ To see the photographs I’ve mentioned, go to Tavel and then Morocco in the drop down menu ].