Saturday, December 29, 2012

Focus On: The Portals of Fes

All right Sports Fans, as we wrap up 2012, I thought I'd wrap up this series on Morocco as well. And so, I'll sign off with my take on the arches, windows, and doorways of Fes. 

Happy New Year and see you in 2013.

The Blue Gate
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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

And the Glory of the Lord Shall be Revealed

I was exhausted. I had just flown into Paris on the red eye flight and just wanted to go to my hotel to catch a couple of hours of sleep before heading out into the city. I had even let the hotel - a small boutique hotel in the 5eme -  know on my reservation form that I'd be checking in early. But upon my arrival to the front desk...

"Desole monsieur, but check in is at 1300."

"But I said that I'd be arriving early. See, it even says it on my confirmation."

"Mais monsieur, check in is at 1300"

There was nothing more to be done other than to head to a nearby cafe and suck down a enough cafe to try to remain conscious. That worked well for a while, but even I can only drink coffee for so long and besides, the morning rush was winding down, making the people watching less interesting by the momment. My maps indicated that there were several churches nearby and, with not much else to do, I figured I'd go exploring.

Whereupon entering one of (the?) oldest churches in Paris, I was greeted by the silence that comes from visiting at 0900 on Friday and nearly blinded by the early morning light streaming in from above the altar. I worked the scene with multiple cameras, trying to capture the majesty of the moment, but presently the light began to change, telling me it was time to move on.

The real fun came during editing time though. Getting the shot is usually half of the problem, but in this case, whatever challenges I faced at the scene, paled in comparison in trying to bring it all out through the editing process. I went through fully three versions of this photo (about six hours of work - easily a record for me) before finally managing to balance the blinding sunlight with the subdued foreground.

I'm still not sure if I fully achieved that balance but, as these classic cathedrals were deliberately made with imperfections, perhaps thats reflected in the photo as well.

Merry Christmas.

"And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed"

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Focus On: The ONCF

One of the things I was looking forward to during my trip to Morocco was the chance of riding the Office National Chemin de Fer (ONCF) - the Moroccan State Railroad company. Being from Chicago, I have a bit of an interest in trains (no, really) and while I’ve ridden plenty of metro systems throughout the world, this would be my first chance to ride intercity heavy rail outside of the US.

To be sure, taking the ONCF was partly born of necessity - inter-Moroccan air travel was expensive and not particularly convenient and renting a car would have been problematic given the distances I wanted to cover. Talking to people who had been in Morocco before, I came away with a pretty good feeling about the ONCF, but even then I still wasn’t sure what to expect. I mean, Amtrak approaches third world levels of service on its own, and now I’d be taking the train in Africa.

Well, as I’ve mentioned before, Morocco is not Africa and is certainly not a developing country. And the ONCF was - quite simply - the only way I could imagine traveling in the country. Yeah, trains were a little late once or twice, but certainly no worse than the US. And while they were perhaps a little dated (I’d guess they were comparable in levels of comfort to US trains in, say the fifties to the seventies) they were more than serviceable.

One quirk of the ONCF which I feel compelled to share with you however, should you ever find yourself in Morocco, is that First Class is a rip-off. In first class, you have assigned seating in a six person compartment (3x3 facing each other). Whereas in Second Class, it’s 2x2 open seating. Basically my First Class ticket entitled me to sit by the door of the compartment, two seats away from the window, staring at someone for four hours. In Second Class, I could pick my own (window) seat. The comfort level was the same (maybe in the summer an air conditioned compartment is worth it. In February? Climate control wasn’t an issue.). Needless to say, I rode Second Class with my First Class ticket (thoroughly confusing the conductor in the process).

Finally, any railroad that has orange trees growing in its stations has to be doing something right.

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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Like a Mosque in the Rain

I believe the official name of this mosque is “The Mosque of the Divinity” but all of the toubabs in Dakar just called it the Seaside Mosque. It was also probably one of the more popular photographic subjects in Dakar, since it was a pretty dramatic building and one that you could shoot from multiple angles. Since I had to drive by it every weekend to get to my prefered French chain grocery store, I got in the habit of throwing my camera bag in the car, just on the off chance that I’d catch some good light.

Which I did. Many times in fact. Here’s the best one:
Here Comes the Rain Again

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Focus On: The Satellite Dishes of the Old Medina

As I mentioned in my previous entry on Fes, I went in with few preconceptions about how to shoot the place. To be honest, this hasn’t worked out for me well before or since, but for whatever reason, I was able to arrive in Fes, walk around for a day or so, and figure out some photographic themes I wanted to explore. One of them was the omnipresence of satellite dishes.

Now, I’ve traveled fairly extensively in the developing world and the Middle East (though it's worth noting that Morocco is not the first and is arguably not the second), so I’m no stranger to seeing a forest of satellite dishes bolted onto here and there and spread across the landscape as some sort of fiberglass kudzu. But for some reason it just struck me more in Morocco. Maybe it’s because Morocco is not a developing country, and yet it still is infested with these ubiquitous devices. Maybe it was just the juxtaposition with the classic architecture of the old medina. Whatever it was, they were everywhere.

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