“Landing in Morocco we found ourselves immersed in another world. A mix of beautiful geometric Islamic art and laid-back French and Spanish styles—Morocco is many things all at once.”
For Bristol-based photographer Naomi Wood, shooting a series in Morocco had always been a dream project. After studying Graphic Communication at Bath School of Art and Design, she found all her work to be photography-based. “I think that was when I realised that photography was what I really loved. My husband (at the time he was my boyfriend) lent me his Grandad’s camera (an old Pentax). I’d always taken photos, but that was when I first started getting really interested in the mechanics of the camera and really started to play around with it.”
The original plan for this trip was a trek through the Atlas Mountains but when Naomi fell ill, the trip took a spontaneous turn to the coast and the port city of Essaouira. “The days in Morocco are so hot that life moves slowly and each hour feels like it could stretch on forever. A real highlight was one such long day in the coastal city of Essaouira,” says Naomi. “We hired bikes and pedalled along the edge of the beach with a strong breeze blowing from the North Atlantic Ocean. For hours we followed the coastline, stopping to snack on the melted baklava and warm olives we’d packed in our bag in the morning. Along the way we discovered the ruins of old homes and herds of goats and camels wandering the sand dunes. It was peaceful and slow and when we grew weary we stopped in a beach side hut to sip icy larger and watch local surfers ride the waves.”
“The decorum is different in Moroccan culture, I was expecting to capture loads of shots on the streets, but people don’t really like having their photo taken…”
Tell us about this trip. Why Morocco? What was the plan and whereabouts did you visit?
Morocco has always been a bit of a dream destination for me. The colors and patterns of Islamic art combined with bits of Spanish and French culture, the textures of the dry landscape against all the bold weaving and embroidery in the textiles. And also the food: baklava, Baba ghanoush, all the tagines.
Our original plan for the trip was to climb the highest peak: Toubkal in the High Atlas Mountains. We flew to Marrakech and then headed to Asni (in the foothills of the mountains) but unfortunately I was really ill and couldn’t do the trek. So we changed our course and traveled down to Essaouira, on the coast, which was beautiful. Essaouira is much more laid back than Marrakech, but there is still plenty to do. We stayed in an amazing riad with our own private rooftop for just a few euros and chilled out for a few days, drinking freshly squeezed orange juice and croissants while I recovered. It’s where the Moroccans holiday, so it feels really relaxed. The best bits of the trip were the days we spent lying on the beach in Essaouira in the sun with the breeze blowing in.
Did you have any unexpected moments from shooting this series?
The decorum is different in Moroccan culture, I was expecting to capture loads of shots on the streets, but people don’t really like having their photo taken over there unless you ask. So the process was a lot slower because I had to keep checking with people that they were happy. I actually got into trouble a few times…
Did Essaouira surprise you in any way?
The cats, they were everywhere. And the sellers in the Medinas were super friendly and not anywhere near as pushy as we had been warned they would be. I’ve experienced some pretty persistent sellers in other countries, but we found the Moroccans are much nicer and really up for a bit of a fun haggle.
Tell us how color plays a part in your work.
I’m always looking for color combinations when I’m composing an image. The right balance of color can really make a subject stand out—Morocco was amazing for that. There are all the hues in the buildings, the walls, the stained glass and then all the amazing colors and patterns in the textiles, which are draped all around. Each city has it’s own color scheme, too; Marrakech was dark and moody with lots of dusky reds and oranges, whereas Essaouira was much lighter and breezy—cool blues and lemony yellows on white washed walls.
Tell us about your favourite image from this series.
The image of the boy running down the street in Asni. I think it could look really eery, but I have fond memories of waving and chatting to the kids in the village in the evenings. I think that little boy was playing a game with his friend at the time.
Does adventuring to new places play a key part in your work, shooting the unfamiliar vs. familiar?
Yeah, I always try to document my day to day life, but it is much more inspiring to shoot somewhere new. It kind of revives me and makes me look at home through fresh eyes when I get back.
“In every direction the colors are bright, the noises are loud and the smells are pungent, but the call to prayer and gentle winds felt calming and serene.”