House of Photography

 

I have always had a fascination with photography. Mostly because of the art of photography and the beauty of the images captured, but also as a way of recording memories. Over time a person’s memories become their stories, handed down through generations of their family. And sometimes those memories are collected across a wide range of families and times to become a rich history of a place or a people. That is exactly what I found when I entered the Maison de la Photographie in a litte hidden street behind the souks in Marrakech.

 
 

This private museum is located in a renovated riad in the northeastern part of Marrakech’s medina, close to Ali ben Youssef Madrasa. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy to find! I wandered around the streets for ages looking for the museum. I stopped for lunch at a beautiful little cafe the third time I walked past it looking for the museum. I thought maybe the strange and intoxicating little streets had jinxed me somehow and that I’d never escape going around in circles if I didn’t eat there. Afterwards I headed out again to search further but I soon gave up and asked one of the local men to guide me. He agreed readily and led me around the next corner and right to the door of the museum. It was less than three minutes from where I had been! Of course, this being Marrakech he wanted an extortionate amount of money for guiding me. I offered him 40MAD - a pound a minute seemed more than fair to me. He argued good-naturedly, dragging a friend into the conversation to try to convince me that he deserved at least five times that amount. But I stood firm and ducked into the museum with a smile and a wave to the two laughing gentlemen.

The museum is a gloriously light and airy place, with the photographs displayed as if you were in a home rather than a museum. As I wandered through the cool, airy rooms I found myself becoming more and more immersed in the history of Morocco. The pictures describe clearly the lifestyle of the locals, the way of travel, the music, the traditions, the families. They tell stories of a world and a time that is intoxicating in its uniqueness.

On the higher floors the photographic displays start to mix in with darker rooms showing old movies that fascinated me. Some of the photos looked as if they could easily have been taken just moments ago in the streets outside, but the movies felt much older - although that was probably because of the changes in technology rather changes than changes in the scenes themselves. Life in Morocco seems unchanging in so many ways.

Eventually I reached the roof and discovered a little cafe with the most marvelous view over Marrakech and out to the snow-covered peaks of the Atlas mountains just visible in the distance. A perfect place to sit for a while before diving back into madness of the Djemaa el-Fnaa and the medina.

 
 

Here’s the touristy history bit:
The House of Photography was created by Hamid Mergani and Patrick Manach, with the aim of sharing a very important period of Moroccan history. The museum opened in 2009 and has amassed over 8,000 original photographs documenting the extraordinary diversity of Morocco, from the beginnings of photography to around 1960. They reflect not only the Moroccan life of the past, but also offer impressive insights into the history and technical development of photography.

I picked up a couple of the beautiful postcards from the museum shop on the way out. I didn’t realise that I’d captured both of the pictures I chose in the photos I took of the museum - you can just make them out if you look for them. The postcards are framed and hanging in my hallway at home now. Every time I walk past them they remind me of that calm oasis hidden within the busy, mad city of Marrakech - I do so love having reminders of my adventures around my home.

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