Darren Lewey showcases the “austere beauty” of Morocco across local landscapes and portraiture
British-born photographer Darren Lewey shares photographic explorations from his new home in Essaouira, Morocco.
- Lucy Bourton
- 17 September 2021
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
The act of taking photographs has always been driven by a personal passion for photographer Darren Lewey. Originally from Hertfordshire and now based in Essaouira, Morocco, Darren first found photography at school, instantly discovering “that going out into the landscape and coming back with something was an exciting and complete experience,” he tells It’s Nice That. These early photographs then became ways to instantly access the memory of a certain place or even, “what it felt like to be in the company of that person,” he says. “As a teenager, I had little regard for what those photos would mean for others. Still, now that’s a secondary concern for personal work.”
Following a stint at art college, Darren found “the discipline and restrictions of photography suited me much better than the fine arts.” The photographer’s approach to the medium today continues to place his own happiness first – just as he did as a teenager. Purposefully existing outside what Darren describes as “what the contemporary photo climate finds favourable,” instead, the photographer places his “own creative development at the core.” As a result, the aspects he tends to enjoy most about the medium are first the engagement it provides with others, followed by “recognition, realisation and revelation,” in the act of taking a photograph.
Regularly working on location within “the domain of found photography,” as he describes, while on a shoot Darren’s process is one he likens to “figuring out the puzzle of a landscape location or a person sat in front of me,” he tells us. “This intensity allows me to connect in a way I may not without the camera.” It’s additionally this process, and the spark that follows, which aids Darren’s decision making, too. As he notes: “A concept or idea is not enough, there should be a spark of something visual that emerges, to carry a project through on its own without a lengthly artistic statement.”
With this in mind, since 2018 the photographer has limited himself to projects close to his home, “to challenge me to find value in what is not readily photographic,” he says. In Essaouira, the small village where Darren lives near the Atlantic coastline of Morocco, this means looking past “the historical charm of the ancient medinas” and finding his own subject with an open mind over multiple visits to various locations. An example of this is his recent series, Tie Your Camel and Trust In God, a monochromatic exploration of Morocco’s western coastal area, described as offering “an austere beauty that reflects the harshness of its semi-arid climate.”
Interspersed with thoughtful portraits of the local community alongside expansive landscapes, Darren’s approach first demonstrates “an interplay of man-made and natural environments,” explains the series statement. Along this coast, towns are few and far between and, in turn, “a landscape buffer zone has isolated them, developing a notion that outsiders are from a different civilisation.” Consequently, Darren discovered how “culture and beliefs from the old world such a spirits thought to possess people (jinn), sit alongside new realities,” relating to the series title referring to “the Prophet’s insistence not to leave everything to God’s will but exert your own.”
The area depicted in Tie Your Camel… is one Darren describes as “a special situation, geographically isolated out on a peninsula with unique climatic forces which bring a pushing wind during parts of the year,” where people have “traditionally survived hand to mouth through fishing trading or selling,” he explains. This location, alongside the area’s “strong belief in witchcraft” therefore combine to create “the two strands that run through the project,” continues Darren. “So landscapes scarred by wind or rain take on a new dimension when seen alongside portraits of battle-weary men.”
A further aim of the project for Darren was to “show Morocco in an unfamiliar way, devoid of the cliches that street photographic approaches typically record,” he says. To achieve this, the series was developed organically, “with locations and imagery leading the way,” as opposed to the concept. This additionally led to creative decisions such as developing the series in black and white, due to areas such as salt pan locations presenting “a chaotic zone with little colour in harsh light,” for example. Following around 100 location visits, Tie Your Camel… formed as a series once Darren took the time to mull each image over, allowing him to see “connections between the landscapes.” Presented as a series of diptychs – as the photographer feels it ignited this connection further – “the final piece of the jigsaw was finding a voice for these men, and creating a sense of what their lives are about,” he continues. “Of course it’s only a fragment of their experiences but the title Tie Your Camel… in essence sums up the duality of accepting destiny and still engaging in the fight for life as one Moroccan friend calls it here.”
Now complete, Darren is hoping to now publish Tie Your Camel... as a handmade book available in small quantities this coming year. You can view the entire series via a dedicated website, here.
GalleryDarren Lewey: Tie Your Camel and Trust In God (Copyright © Darren Lewey, 2021)
Darren Lewey: Tie Your Camel and Trust In God (Copyright © Darren Lewey, 2021)
About the Author
Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.