On Friday 31 October, which turned out to be the last evening of the extended Swiri summer this year, I attended the launch of Essaouira Mogador magazine, a new publication of images and photo journalism for Essaouira.
For the launch, at and around the Histoire de Filles concept store in the medina, several of the images had been displayed against the newly renovated city walls, in the light and the shadow of the spotlights. Although not perhaps the best light for black and white photographs, it was certainly dramatic (and somehow quite appropriate on Hallowe’en!). Photographer Julien Chapon told me that he wanted to take the works out into the city that they document, so that local people – who may be intimidated by a more formal exhibition space – can enjoy and interact with them. And his idea certainly worked – on a warm evening during the Festival des Andalousies Atlantiques there were plenty of people passing by, curious about this novel display.
The magazine launch was well-timed with the Festival. It includes a feature on the Festival of beautiful black and white images of the artists plus a forward by Andre Azoulay, patron of the festival and adviser to HRH King Mohammed VI. What is striking about the images in the magazine is the intimacy; the proximity of the photographer to everyday life of people in Essaouira. Moroccans are often very guarded about being photographed, especially women and especially being photographed by non-Muslims in the context of religious rites and practices. Over 5 years, Chapon has overcome this taboo and got to know his subjects. No photo demonstrates this more than those of local teenage female boxers.
The magazine also features Hamid Lahrouri, a thuya carpenter making sculptures of musicians and other figures made from thuya root. The sculptures, which are currently on exhibition beside Chapon’s photographs in the new art and culture space in the former courthouse on Place Moulay Hassan (the old ‘Agenda 21’ building for locals), have a beautiful raw quality. Unlike the typical work of a thuya maalem (master), the pieces are un-sanded, unpolished and without embellishment or marquetry. Lahrouri practiced this alternative art in secret and it was Chapon, he told me, who persuaded him to develop this spin-off of the traditional craft. It is exciting to see this new variation on an ancient local craft – modern thuya objets (by other artists) are also now on display at the Az-Zahr boutique in Rue Mohammed Diori in the Kasbah.
Chapon hopes to issue an edition of this beautiful magazine – a cross between a coffee table book (without the weight) and an art magazine (without the adverts) every 6 months. I am excited to follow the development of this project.