No visit to Marrakech is complete without a visit to La Maison de la Photographie which is close to the Medersa Ben Youssef. Just pass by the door of the Medersa and through the arch across the street and follow the road round passing on your way restaurant Foundak (an excellent place for lunch or dinner) on your left, a school on your right and shortly afterwards you will find La Maison de la Photographie on your left. It is truly one of the wonders of Marrakech.
Housed in a converted three storey Foundak (the old inns and storage houses for camel trains coming to sell their wares in the souks) which Patrick Man’ach and his Moroccan business colleague Hamid Megrani converted in to a photographic gallery in 2009. There are photographs of Morocco from the 1860’s at the very dawn of photography when intrepid adventurers had to carry heavy equipment into what was still a largely closed country up until the 1950’s and Morocco’s independence in 1956. Early photographers such as Scotsmen George Washington Wilson and James Valentine, took posed pictures for what became the first postcards from Morocco. the Spanish Carvilla and many others like the images of Gabriel Veyre, partner of the brothers “Lumière” – inventors of photography in 1839. During his Moroccan period, the photographer immortalized Sultan Moulay Abdel Aziz, taught him photography, and created a coluorful photographic record portraying three decades.
Starting in Tangier these photographers gradually began to visit Marrakech and the Atlas Mountains taking pictures of street scenes and then capturing the diversity of Morocco’s Arab, Jewish and Berber inhabitants . There are very few photographic collections as rich as that of Maison de la Photographie which houses 4,500 photographs and 800 of the original glass plates by early photographers. A full reference library is on site and researchers and students interested in Moroccan history are welcome.
The exhibitions are arranged on three floors, with large size portraits and scenes from the 1860’s and 70’s to the early20th Century and the late 1950’s. The third floor has a vido room showing the films of Daniel Chicault who took his cine camera to the Atlas Mountains to film in colour unique dance scenes and the village life of the Berber tribes in 1956 and 1957. These are of immense anthropological importance and they give us a unique chance to appreciate the wonderful berber tribal heritage much of which is sadly vanishing. By appreciating Morocco’s past we can understand and appreciate its rich cultural heritage. To crown the visit you can climb the steps to the terrace which has one of the best panoramic views of the medina around as it is one of the highest buildings in the area.
The Maison de la Photographie is the most orignial concepts to have been created in Marrakech in the last few years. Many hotels have bought the photographs which now grace many hotel rooms and La Maison de la Photographie works on exhibitions with most of the leading cultural institutions in Marrakech including the Institut Francais and the Riad Denise Masson to name but two.
The new exhibition in the Maison de la Photographie is called: ” Trésors Photographiques du Maroc ” (Photographic treasures of Morocco) : the exhibition of original prints which covers the period 1870-1950 and shows the diversity of the Moroccan population: Arabs,Berbers, Muslims and Jewish people and the splendor of the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Saharian countrysides.
Most of the photographers came from Europe, and in the 1870’s, stayed in Tangier, an international city, where legations, soldiers, traders, adventurers, artists, located their activities. With the colonial period, called the French Protectorate, photographers ventured further towards the South: Marrakesh became a winter resort, and many started to venture in the Atlas, like the painter Majorelle who owned the Majorelle and its gardens in Gueliz on the Boulevard Zerktouni which houses a museum for Majorelle’s paintings and a museum created by Pierre Berget with the Haute Couture of Yves Saint Laurent.
In the Thirties, a group of photographers under the name of Studio Souissi, recorded all aspects of local life. Muller’s exceptional photographs, a donation of his daughter Ana Muller, are exhibited permanently.
Visitors can view documentaries by Daniel Chicault, from 1957, on the Berbers of the High Atlas and from the panoramic terrace, a view on the Atlas and the medina of Marrakesh.
The entrance charge of 40 dirhams includes a conducted tour and and details about the photographers . the staff are english speaking and Patrick Man’ach is on hand to share information and advice. Visitors can buy prints of the photographs on view in the shop at the entrance.
Maison de la Photographie, Marrakech
Open everyday 9.30 am – 7pm
46 rue Ahal Fès
05-24 -38-57 21 or +212-5-24-38-57-21
Written by Colin Kilkelly