“That day, a day in the late spring of 2016, I was in Larache, Morocco.
Well, we were in Larache. Together, my husband Adrian and I have formed a photographic “we” for so long that it’s almost automatically implied when I say “I.”
We had arrived in Larache the day before, because I wanted to visit the grave of Jean Genet, who has been resting in peace there since 1986, I believe.
Reading Jean Genet as a teenager had been a literary and poetic revelation to me, just like Bukowski’s Love Is a Dog From Hell would be several years later.
We had departed from Tangier and were driving up the Atlantic coast for a new series I had in mind, in memory of a road trip I had taken with my mother and my sister in 1975.
It was the month of Ramadan, and when we reached Larache, there was nowhere to sit and have coffee on a patio, and so we were stuck with a lukewarm instant Nescafé coffee in our rundown hotel room. Luckily, we had a view of the ocean from our window.
We left our room at dawn to roam the deserted city.
Ramadan is great for that: sleepy, empty city streets suit me perfectly.
I don’t do travel or action photography; I don’t shoot people, either.
It’s hard to make people timeless, I find, and what I like is a sense of hard to define time, a sort of blurred timelessness that can slip, that photographers can help slip, into an image.
That morning, we had walked by the sea for quite some time on our way to the Spanish cemetery. I had my SX-70 in my hand and I was on the lookout of course, when, suddenly, I saw him. It wasn’t so much the man that I saw, as it was the photo of the man. This photo that could be taken and that would convey all his elegance, his reverie, his beauty to the world, in the exquisite and lonely morning air.
There were at least fifteen meters between us when I started working on the shot.
In moments like that, when I’m on the hunt,* I regret not having a digital camera; a Polaroid whistles and makes noise when the photo comes out.
I approached him from behind with cat-like stealth, one meter at a time, snapping a shot each meter with my whistling Polaroid. I would freeze, thinking to myself, This is it, this is when he’s going to turn aroud and get mad at me.
Meter by meter, photo by photo, I advanced, and the frame started to become the one I wanted and I thought to myself: “Good, just one more and then I’ll ask him.”
But I had learned to keep shooting until someone stopped me ages ago.
I found myself less than one meter away from him, thinking there was no way he couldn’t feel my presence, but he just stood there, immersed in his reverie.
We both stood there, motionless, and perhaps I was looking at him with the same sense of wonder he felt as he looked at the sea.
So I took the shot.
I coughed to muffle the sound of the polaroid, which I then quickly slipped into my bag.
Then I said, “Sabah el Kheir.” When he turned around, I asked, “Do you mind if I take a picture of you? It’s all so beautiful, with the shirt, the hat, the sea.”
So, I took the photo again, the same one, once, twice. I gave him one and kept the other, of course.
We had become fast friends when we parted ways.
They built a wall along the Spanish cemetery, and nowadays, you can no longer see, as in the photo by Gérard Rondeau, the white tomb of Jean Genet that overlooks the sea and stares out at the horizon.”
*Taking a photo is like hunting. It’s the hunting instinct without the desire to kill. It’s hunting for angels… You hunt, you aim, you shoot, and CLICK! Instead of something dead, you make something eternal.” -Chris Marker