Behind the scenes: It’s 1999 and Jeffrey is photographing on assignment in Morocco for Travel Holiday. The story he is working on highlights the important role women play in this North African country, even though many are not allowed to work.
As Jeffrey strolls around the lively Jemaa el Fna Marketplace in Marrakesh’s old medina quarter, he breathes in the savory aromas of late afternoon. Along the way he photographs an array of vendors selling fruit, spices and kabobs as well as several flamboyant water sellers, fire eaters and snake charmers.
In the midst of this bustling scene, he notices a woman wearing a blue hijab. Her striking almond-shaped eyes dance beneath her blue head covering as she paints intricate henna designs onto a woman’s hands.
Jeffrey is intrigued, so through his interpreter, he asks the woman if she would mind if he made a portrait of her. Her eyes instantly light up, unmistakably flattered. Looking around though, she quickly replies in an overly loud voice, “No, I’m sorry, I cannot without my husband’s permission.”
Every nearby vendor is now watching. She glances down at the ground and shakes her head, then looks at Jeffrey with a feisty twinkle in her eye before she repeats: “No, I’m sorry, my husband would need to give you permission.”
Jeffrey can tell she is up to something, and would clearly like to have her picture taken, so he says louder than usual, “Yes, of course, no problem. I understand. But do you think it would be okay if I just photographed your hand to show your beautiful henna artwork?”
“Oh yes, of course…of course.” she replies, her eyes indicating her happiness that they have figured out a way to make this work. “That would be no problem,” she says again, if it is just showing off my artwork.”
“Great,” Jeffrey says as he brings his camera up to his eye.
Then he lowers his camera back down. “But do you think you could bring your hand up to your chin so that your artwork shows up better in the picture?” he asks, grinning.
She knows exactly what Jeffrey is doing and quickly raises her hand near her face, Jeffrey shoots a few frames, then the artist quickly goes back to painting another woman’s hand, while all other vendors go back to their own business.
Jeffrey is sure that he has just created a stunning portrait—one that symbolizes the beauty and strength of Moroccan women. He also senses that this woman, by navigating around the suffocating constraints of her culture, feels a tiny bit more empowered by her conspiracy in this photographic moment.
To see a few more of Jeffrey’s images from Morocco, click on the fire eater below:
©2011 Becky Green Aaronson The Art of an Improbable Life