Camera etiquette is a serious concern for tourists in Morocco. With tourism being a driving force of the Moroccan economy, there is naturally a constant presence of tourists flashing their cameras, within the major cities. Thus photography is a sensitive subject and attitudes towards it vary from city to city. In my experience, Rabat seems the most laid back. Tourists are commonly found taking pictures that may well capture a number of locals in the background, but I have yet to observe anyone getting upset over it. When asking local friends in Rabat if I could take a picture of them, I found that they initial responses are often marked with some hesitance, if not suspicion, however they typically immediately change their attitude and become insistent that I take even more pictures. Some will even bogart the camera and make me the subject.
Fes is the extreme opposite. It is one of the most touristy cities in the country and the residents tend to be more sensitive to being photographed. This goes so far that it is actually illegal to photograph Moroccans in Fes without their permission. On the occasions that I or a colleague have taken pictures, accidentally capturing a local in the background, we found ourselves the recipients of some rather severe tongue lashings. I had even received an earful from a shopkeeper, when a classmate photographed me standing next to his mannequin.
In my experience in Marrakech, people have been equally as sensitive as in Fes, but responded as opportunists rather than victims, insisting they be paid for their presence.
While walking around Zawiyat al Hansal, some colleagues and I stopped and chatted with a couple of older men, resting on the mountain. The small talk was going well, but I was asked to translate to the men if they would mind being photographed. They seemed miffed at the proposition. The conversation ended on that note.
With the constant presence of tourists and their cameras, all of the above reactions seem understandable and unsurprising. However, maybe this also points to a sensitivity and awareness of Western orientalism. I’m not suggesting that everyone has read Edward Said, but after centuries of foreign academics, occupiers and tourists, using photography to exoticize, represent and sell Morocco, people have become practically aware of the concept.
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