Morocco Report: More Donkeys Than Expected

When the cab (a 10-year-old SUV with dirty seats) dropped us in the medina and a mysterious man loaded our luggage into a hand-wheeled donkey cart, I was on notice that we were in a different world.

After a fifteen minute walk through streets six feet wide and eighteen feet high, walled with centuries-old stucco and no windows, I worried what the attendees’ first impression would be and wondered how to turn any reticence into enthusiasm. A tough challenge, since I myself was already counting the days until the ride back to the airport.

We just finished up our first-ever photo expedition in Morocco and I don’t know what else to say other than I was blown away with the experience. This workshop had the best attendee vibrations since our very first Paris workshop back in 2005.

And Marrakech -- or more specifically the ancient medina -- is about as far as you can get from a Western experience.

When that ride back to the airport finally came, I was sad to leave. Efrain and I were surrounded by attendees hugging each other (and us).

I wanted to stay and weave myself even further into the fabric of Marrakech and its people. Attendees were asking me how this expedition ranked among the 27 others we’ve held around the world, saying openly they knew it had to be among the best.

When the tour of a junkyard where no one will let you photograph them turns out to be a highlight, and the photos from that excursion turn out to be among the best artistically I've seen -- you know there's magic in the medina.

When four attendees ask if they can get up at 5:00 a.m. to go out with Efrain in the pre-dawn dark to practice their tripod skills and take photos during the golden hour -- and they do it two days in a row -- there's magic in the medina.

When the group photo reviews each night excite everyone in the room including me and the attendees that took them -- there's magic in the medina.

When I help the techno geeks forget about the challenge of using full manual and encourage them to use full auto and experience the experience, and they tell me I have "liberated" their photography -- there's magic in the medina.

When a donkey cart runs over someone's foot, and they're upset they didn't get a picture of it -- there's magic in the medina.

When our host Patrick is so excited by our lectures and Lightroom demonstrations that he attends every session and shows his photos as well, then gives up his week to walk with us and show us his special city, using my favorite camera (which I loaned him for the tour because of his enthusiasm) and at every stop you hear "wonderful, wonderful" in an equally wonderful French accent -- there's magic in the medina.

Then when he asks to buy the camera and pays me with crumpled twenties and euros he has gathered for years and hidden inside a cushion -- there's magic in travel and in travel photography.

I know I felt that magic, and I feel it still. I know every attendee felt that magic; they told me so.

Joe McNally (a professional photographer with clients like Sports Illustrated, ESPN, National Geographic, Life, and Time who was listed as one of the 100 most important people in photography in American Photo magazine) said:

"What a gift this camera I curse is! A flying carpet into people’s lives. A certitude that this time, I will be richer for putting my camera to my eye. There’s no money on the line here. Just human encounter. Here, now, the camera becomes an instant learning machine. The camera’s not a camera, really. It’s an open door we need to walk through. It’s up to us to keep moving our feet."

Here’s wishing you great travels, good memories, and lots of pictures…

-- Rich

Richard Wagner
Senior Advisor to AWAI’s Turn Your Pictures into Cash program and AWAI photography workshops and expeditions.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.  Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]