I arrived back home Sunday night from my 2 weeks in Morocco and I am glad to be back. Really, really glad to be back.
To give a bit of background, I was selected to be one of 2 artists in residence for the moussem (pilgrimage) of Sidi Ali bin Hamdouch up in the foothills of the mountains in N. Morocco. This pilgrimage is a very loose collection of folks from all over Morocco and NW Africa but all share a common thread in that they are all members of Sufi Muslim brotherhoods. My intention was to arrive, shake some hands and set up the 4×5 and start shooting deliberate, honest portraits of the folks that attend to show the numerous differences between everyone but also the commonalities that they share. This didn’t exactly happen as planned…
As soon as I arrived in Fez it was pouring rain and cold and generally horrible weather. That cleared for a little while the next day once we had arrived in Sidi Ali and I decided it was time to set the big camera up and see what sort of response I got. In less time than it takes to type half this sentence the city council officials were on my ass and demanding that I take the tripod down (hadn’t even gotten the camera on it yet) and all hell was breaking loose. The coordinator for the residency stepped in and tried to make sense of things and diffuse the situation but to no avail.
The frustrating thing about this was that I was worried this might happen so, I made sure that the residency folks secured permission before hand, which they did, but as are the ways of the world, the powers that be revoked my permission. Shit. No what? After trying and trying to get them to allow me to shoot it got me nowhere other than a few deportation threats and a permanent shadow to make sure we didnt break the rules. Now, mind you, I was livid about this as I had spent a lot of money and more importantly, a lot of time to get over there and now I was rendered about as useful as an asshole on an elbow.
So, the days go on with out me shooting but observing and being in the moment of things at this pilgrimage and I tell you, as a photographer it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to deal with since the visuals were so intense and there were so many good photos to have and, well, Im still a little bitter but Ill get over it. Again, for some clarity, I should explain a few of the things that were going on at this event…
The pilgrimage goes on for about 10 days and starts roughly on the Prophet’s birthday but these are not hard and fast rules – as we have seen earlier, there is no such thing in Morocco. So, people come from all around to the shrine of Sidi Ali bin Hamdouch to receive baraka or blessings and they bathe in the holy spring that comes out of the mountain. Sounds pretty tame and like many other religious sites the world over (Lourdes, Ganges, etc etc) but oh, it is so much more. The big component to Sufism that differentiates it from the rest of Islam is their strong belief in spirits or Djinn that are constantly present but sometimes need to be coaxed from the ethereal into the physical and they do this with music. The way it manifests itself is that people start going into trance and pretty much lose their shit. I was fortunate enough to be invited into some private homes to attend and ‘participate’ in these conjurings and Im still trying to wrap my head around all that I saw. Not in order but I saw…
Women shattering glasses on their heads and eating the glass
A cow sacrificed in a living room
A woman trancing in the cow’s blood as it kicked for life (heavy)
Lots of knife play and lots of human blood
Speaking in tongues and animal voices
Lots of eyes rolling back into peoples heads
and lots of other bat shit crazy things.
So, Ill leave the follow up post to deal with the second half of the trip and add to these observations as I still need time to process everything. Hell, I don’t know if Ill ever process everything.
To be continued…