Lhouceine, tell us a little bit about how your interest in photography developed?
For a long time photography was not something celebrated in Morocco. Photography, until the coming of digital photography and cameras on cell phones, was something out of reach for most people, because there were not that many cameras around and furthermore, even if you had a camera you had to develop the film. In my family there remains only a few black and white photographs of family members. There is for example, a photograph of my father that is very meaningful for me, because my father is no longer with us. This is a photograph of my father as a young man working in Casablanca. Every time I look at that photograph I am amazed at it, because the photograph gives me back a father that I never knew since he was a young man in the photograph and it was long before I was born. That is the power of photography. When I got my hand on my first camera, I could not stop taking pictures. It is funny, because now I am remembering that for the longest time we had a tv, but it was a black and white tv. I remember quite distinctly the day my father came home with a color tv. That was a wow moment for me and for our family. I guess it was at that moment, as a small boy in front of that color television set, that I started getting very interested in photography. Maybe it was in that moment that I became a photographer.
If photography is so important to you then Lhouceine for memorializing certain family moments and family members, why do you prioritize landscape in your photography?
I think that once you take a photograph you are writing a page in history. Even if you take a photograph of the same place one minute later something has changed. Photographs mark history and so they mark the passing of time. In regards to my preference for landscape photography, I think the land and architecture have a story to tell, just like people do. A landscape photograph joins together a time and a place. I consider my landscape photographs to be portraits in the same way that portrait photographers think of their work with people. When I look at my landscape photographs they are peopled in the way any other memorializing and portrait photograph is, it is just that people often aren’t necessarily part of the memorializing.
I know that you are working on a project in which you hope to showcase the small towns and cities in Morocco, what do you believe these small towns and cities can tell us and show us that larger cities like Casablanca and Rabat cannot or does not?
Small cities still preserve the Moroccan identity and you can feel the freshness and warmth of the people in these places. For me, they are authentic Moroccan cities. Life is slower in these places, people are nicer. It is so easy to get lost in the larger cities where differences are often erased. But in small cities you realize the differences in language and traditions that it is harder to see in big cities. Asilah is totally different from Tetouan even though they are very close to each other. In the same way Chefchaouen is a world away from Tetouan even though one city is literally just down the mountainside from another. The architecture, the food, even the clothes that people wear is different from each other among these cities that are within an hour of each other. But the people in Casablanca, Agadir, Marakeech, some of the largest cities in Morocco, they seem more alike than not. What is also interesting to me about some small cities is that they were the larger more important cities of Morocco in the past and if you look closely enough at these cities you can still see their historical importance. I find that fascinating, because it is really in these small cities, in their material culture, that you can better see the ongoing history and traditions of Morocco.
You have chosen Asilah to be the city that you start this body of work with, why specifically Asilah to start this work as against some other city?
I find the small beautiful city of Asilah charming, not only because of its size and proximity next to the ocean, but also because of its mixture of Hispanic and Moroccan flavors. There is an undeniable Andalusian feel to the city, best evidenced in the blue and white colors that are used on almost all of the houses in the city. The blue and white colors are also reminiscent of the open skies and the ever-present ocean. I find the quality of the light in the city amazing and I love photographing there. As we talk about light in Morocco, I read some critics on art advancing that the French painters who settled in Morocco and cleared the way to a Moroccan fine art, discovered some colors they were not familiar with in Europe because of the bright light of the sun here. Plus, for me, the small city of Asilah, like so many of the other small towns of Morocco that I have been documenting, are the true gems of Morocco and this is why I chose to start my small cities of Morocco project in Asilah.
Looking at your work there is a clear preoccupation with perspective and with architectural details. I am struck by the fact that you always seem to be looking forward or outwards in your photography, but never backwards for example. Any thoughts on why this might be so?
My photographs often mark a sequence of events. Since I am primarily a landscape photographer I feel I am always being guided by the landscape and being pulled forward by the landscape. I think this is the reason why particularly the Asilah photographs seem to be looking outwards. I try to accommodate myself to the place in-front of me and in the Asilah photographs the perspective was always outwards, towards the sea. In fact, all the houses face out towards the ocean. I feel, at least in this body of photographs, that I was just being guided by the landscape.
I find the darkest of your photographs in this group, the one you call “Cool Dark Interior” rather stunning: what can you tell us about this photograph?
I was walking in the old medina is Asilah and by chance I passed this house, and I said, wow, this place looks different, magical even. I returned to the house and I took the picture because the image stayed in my mind. What I found fascinating was the play of darkness and light. Maybe I believe this to be a metaphor of life, or the rites of passage to enlightenment. You will notice that there is a narrow passageway that one goes through, a dark passageway at that, to find himself in a lighter place. Really for me it is a metaphor for life.
So are you trying to say then Lhouceine that darkness is bad?
No, I am not trying to say this. Darkness is not bad but it is a pre-light phase. This is the work of photography, it is playing with light, maybe even painting with light. This is what we photographers do. I know that this image, “Cool Dark Interior”, is a favorite of yours Jacqueline, but it is one of mine too, because it brings together the three main elements of photography: The scene, the perspective from which the photographer sees the scene, and, most importantly the use of light. This all summarizes the photographer’s approach to deliver his message for the picture.
Do you think then Lhouceine that this photograph —“Cool Dark Interior”— is a precursor to your most recent work — the “Night and Light” series of photographs. What can you tell us about this new body of work?
“Night and Light” is a series of abstract black and white photographs that are inspired by the movement of the light, a vital element in the universe. In these works I use photography as a means of drawing by giving light the freedom to draw it’s own way. There are somber solid black photographs that are enlivened by delicate white lines that speak to the overwhelming feeling of happiness and abandon. The photographs are showing us how it feels to be free for the first time, the “now free light” bursts into a wild freedom dance engendering the retracing of its lines out of an orbit in revolutionary movements. The freedom dance starts by frenetic movements before it quietly finds the right notes and then smoothly finds the right rhythm. I wanted to show in these works the dynamism of the colors black and white and that they are neither static nor stationary as they are generally conceived to be.
Lhouceine thank you for this lovely interview.
No problem Jacqueline, I enjoyed doing it.