Creating the Maroc Project
In 1978 French Vogue asked me to do a trip to Morocco where I'd never been before. And I came down, I stayed in Mamounia Hotel in Marrakesh. I found it very exotic, very interesting. And then over the late seventies and eighties I had a few visits here doing fashion stories. I was never here for that long, maybe five, six, seven days maximum. And then in 1992, 93, 93, 1993. I ended up coming down to Marrakesh. The magazine rented a house for me. And then another magazine heard I was here. And I ended up being here doing various jobs here. Advertising and editorial, for a period of five weeks in total. They flew different models in from New York for me and also down from London. And in fact, at that time there was a wonderful part of the shooting was an entire day that I spent doing nudes on Kate Moss. That was really a wonderful experience and I ended up doing the shooting on her 19th birthday. So it was a very interesting trip. So the reason that this was importan...
t this trip, was I was here for five, nearly six weeks. And at that point my wife said this house that we're staying in is wonderful. Why don't I rent the house for the family and we'll bring all of your relatives down from Scotland and you can stay in this house. We can rent this house for Christmas time you know? Over Christmas and New Year. Which I thought was a horrible idea you know. The idea of Christmas and New Year with all of my family in a Moroccan house was a bit odd. Anyway in July of that year she said I've already booked the house and paid the money. So of course once you pay the money if you're Scottish then you're definitely gonna go. And we ended up staying 10 days in this house and we actually had a fantastic time. I at this point really began to love Morocco. And love the country, the people, the whole history of the country I loved. I decided the following year to rent another house and the following year rented again. Different house and the souk and the market. I just developed really a love for Morocco over these couple of years. And then I ended up in the house that we're in right now. Which is the guest house of my house. And I started to build. In 1996 I decided to build my own house in Marrakesh. In the Palmery just outside. I really just at this point wanted to spend part of the year here. 'Cause I was living in New York but I wanted to spend part of the year in Morocco. And I loved it. Now at this time, just out of the blue, the Prince of Morocco who is now the king. Contacted us through actually an Italian company. And he wanted me to do a book on Morocco. And to call it Morocco. Which I later changed 'cause I preferred Maroc, which is the French title for Morocco. And it was really a perfect time for me 'cause I was building this house here. I was able to bring a crew over from New York. And I began what turned out to be 39 days of travel throughout Morocco. The prince emphasized to me that he wanted it to be my project and as long as I was just photographing in Morocco then he was happy with any of the pictures. So I began the project. And I knew that I had tremendous freedom. I just began conceptualizing the project. Began to really study history and geography. And laying out how I would do this project. How I would do possibly in the beginning six days of shooting. Take the film back to New York. Process the film. How was I going to present the final work? Was I going to do it in a more traditional way and I decided to do that. I decided to do it mainly in black and white and duo tones. And later expanding that into cyanotype prints, into platinum prints. I came across this store in the souk in Marrakesh. And I found this pile of old vellums that were books on magic with a lot of Arabic lettering on them. And I decided to take those back to New York. I washed a lot of these pages and treated them and pressed them. And then I did directly on to these papers. I did platinum prints of the very shots that I had done in Morocco. So of course I was going to, as I would always do, I was of course going to fill the book with landscapes, with still lifes, and of course most of all with the people of Morocco. I worked in the Deep South and part called Laayoune. Which is really deep in the Sahara with of course lots of classic sand dunes. I photographed the Saharawi people that live in the desert there just outside of Laayoune. And I photographed politicians in Rabat. Businessmen in Casablanca. I photographed a lot of course in Marrakesh, which I was very familiar with in Ouarzazate, which is on the other side of the Atlas. I photographed in snow and in the desert. So I basically did of course all my research, which is important for students to do. That I did not only history but of course the geography. I was plotting out the whole time how did I want to make it like a diary? In fact when we completed the project, I found out that they were going to publish the book in Italian and English and not in Arabic. So to make that work which I thought was sad because Arabic lettering is so beautiful. I actually contacted this famous calligrapher who was in New York at that time. And I decided to write on all of the photographs, the title of the images in Arabic. And he was actually the calligrapher to the Shah of Iran at one point. Of course he had this superb Arabic calligraphy. That made the book not only in Italian and also in English. But of course with the Arabic lettering it made the book in Arabic as well. So I really did it as a caillet, which is French for diary. And it was really at one point it was going to be called 39 Days in Morocco. And I thought you don't need that. I ended up just calling it Maroc. The book was printed in Italy. It was done on a 10 color press. Which was really wonderful. I was able to separate some of the color images, which were really not true color. They were cyanotypes. And I did a lot of work with inks and layering on some of the images done in a very simple way 'cause it was before the computer. And really created this textural book on Morocco. As I said with the 10 colors we were able to separate duo tones, black and whites from the color images. I did the photographic layout but I had a very good typographer work with me on the graphics of the book. My early training in graphics is very helpful to me and I did the, how the cover was and if you look at the cover of that book, when I saw the printing of the cover. I had felt that missing on the cover there was this blue yellow. And missing on the cover of this blue yellow black. I felt a little smudge of red would be good. I was able actually on the plate itself to get some red ink and just with my thumb smudge some red onto the cover. For me it was very nice. It was a real art project. And of course in between doing this fine art project, which I think is really important for photographers to do. To carry on with their own work. Of course I would be going back into New York and working for Italian Vogue, French Vogue, German Vogue, English Vogue. Shooting celebrities for Rolling Stone et cetera, et cetera. And in the nighttime doing platinum printing, cyanotech printing on 100 year old, 200 year old paper. That was very much at that period of my life. That was what I was doing you know. As well as directing TV commercials virtually at the same time so it was quite difficult and complex. But it was really a wonderful, wonderful project, Maroc. And the end, the prince, the king, was delighted with it and he loved it and he said it's his favorite book on Morocco.