“That day… I was in Tangier. It was about nine in the morning and there was a strong wind coming in, the type of wind that, in this city on the Strait of Gibraltar, is known as chergui. I had gone out at the crack of dawn, as I often do when I work on a photographic project, and had walked around for at least two hours in the hilltop neighborhood of Marshan, taking some photos. This is one of my favorite districts in the city: the light there is beautiful, especially in the morning and in the early evening hours. I had walked that day along the gardens of the former Italian consulate, then made my way through Kasbah streets, crossed the open space where the Municipal Stadium once stood, descended the steep slope toward the Merkala beach, and landed at the foot of the Vieille Montagne, where I took several more photos.
Before returning to my apartment, I decided to make a stop at the Phoenician tombs. It’s a site known to every self-respecting inhabitant of Tangier, and a popular tourist attraction because it affords a clear view of the Strait. On cloudless days, you can make out the sinuous contour of the Spanish coast jutting above the horizon. Usually, the rocks and the no-man’s land just beyond are teeming with people: you can hear the clamor of families spreading their picnics and cries of children kicking ball. But on windy days, especially first thing in the morning, there are few people around and you can even find some solitude… just as I did that day.
Lost in my thoughts and absorbed in the spectacle unfolding before my eyes, I must have sat for good thirty minutes on these time-worn rocks, watching the clouds floating westward across the sky. There was nothing interesting for me to photograph in this picture-postcard location; in any case, the morning walk had been satisfactory, and I could set my camera aside until late afternoon. The sun was fast climbing the morning sky, and the light was growing intense. I was thus enjoying a moment of calm and looking forward to getting back home for breakfast.
As I was about to leave and follow the asphalt road into the hubbub of the city that was just emerging from slumber, I turned around to take in the landscape one last time… It was then that I noticed two Ionian-style columns standing by the side of the road. I had seen them before but had never really paid attention. The grainy light bathing the landscape and the yellow-gold of the parched grass caught my eye, with the palm trees swaying in the wind in the background, one of which cast a faint shadow on the wall of the adjacent house. There was, it seemed to me, something strange, surreal, nearly dramatic about this view worthy of an orientalist B-movie… Overtaken by a sense of the uncanny, I unfolded the bellows of my Voigtlander Bessa 67, set up the camera, framed the shot, and released the shutter. It was only when I was developing the negative some weeks later that I noticed that, that day, partly hidden from view by the house taking up the left half of the frame, there was a man stretched out on the ground (how long had he been there?), sleeping amid the grass. I had not seen him before, which proves that we are rarely aware of everything that goes on right in front of us and that the camera often makes a better witness than we do.”
By Marco Barbon