When Photography is More Than Taking Photographs

I have two great passions in this world.
One is photography and the other is travel.
When I realised I could marry the two – travel and photography – it was a match made in heaven because that meant I could go around the world photographing all these great places in all of these great lands that I had always dreamed of visiting.

When I first thought about becoming a photographer, that was my vision. I could go to Mont Saint Michel and photograph this great architectural wonder in the middle of the water. I could also go to Venice and get lost in the alleys, and capture the colors of Morocco.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that photography could affect me or put me in situations where I would meet people who would cause me to look at myself and learn more about myself.  These very same people changed my life.

Travel really has become a very personal thing for me.  Sometimes I think that there’s someone I don’t see who pushes me or has their hand on my back pushing me in a certain direction so I do come across some of these people that I do.

The first real true experience that opened my eyes would have been in Marrakech. I was in the Medina and really not enjoying the atmosphere because there seemed to be too much chaos and noise. What I had envisioned in my head wasn’t happening in front of me.

Then, out of nowhere this man stopped me and he asks, “are you ok?” And I replied, “Well, yeah. Why do you ask?” “You don’t look very happy.”
I said, “I’m not. There’s too much chaos here and it’s driving me crazy. I just want to leave.”

The stranger looked at me with a look of surprise.  He took a hold of my arm and asked, “what is your name?”

So, I told him.

With a huge smile he asks how long I planned to be in Marrakech. Again, I told him.

Then he asked, “where are you staying?”
And, I told him the name of the resort. I don’t know why I told this man, but I did.

He firmly replies, “I’m coming for you tomorrow at 8am.”
I said, “no you’re not!”

“Yes, yes, I will come at 8am.”
I replied, “No!”

“Why not?” the stranger asks with more surprise.
“It’s too early,” I replied with a sly smile.
“Ok, Ok, What time should I come?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Let’s say 10:30 or 11am.”
He smiled and said, “Ok, I’ll be there.”

The man jetted off into the Medina; I went the other way.  My only thought was what a peculiar encounter and I didn’t give it a second thought.  This was merely a moment in time and I’d never see the man again.

Well, low and behold the next morning at 10:30am the phone in my hotel room rang. The receptionist said, “Mr. Paulda, there’s someone here to see you. I thought, who is it?  Who in Marrakech knows me?  I had forgotten about the day before.  More to the point, my brain doesn’t function so great in the morning.  The receptions ended by saying, “his name is Hakim and he’s waiting for you.”

I think to myself, I don’t know anyone named Hakim.  Curiosity got the best of me and so I walked to reception.  There waiting for me is this man, the man I met in the Medina the day before.

Hakim told me, “I want you to come with me.  Go get what you need for one, two three days.”

And with no obvious expression, I thought – “holy crap!  This man wants to take me away.  I have no idea who he is. Then I thought to myself, “I’m going to do this. I’m going off with this stranger whom I don’t know.”

So I did. I went off with this man, Hakim.

We drove in a direction foreign to me.  I had no idea where we were going. We talked about life, the philosophy of life – just back and forth as if we were friends reunited after a long separation.

By the end of the day, we were headed into the dunes of the Sahara Desert.  That night I slept under the stars, a gabillion stars in the Sahara Desert.  And, there was a full moon. I remember the rising moon over the dunes; the sight was one I’ll not soon forget.

After being awed by the sandy desert, Hakim drove me back to the resort after this incredible time.  In my mind I kept asking myself, “did this really happen?”  Am I going to wake up only to realise the eye opening experience was merely a Moroccan dream?”

Instead, the encounter was real and it helped me understand the culture in Morocco just through Hakim.  I also learned I am a little bit braver than I ever imagined.

When we arrived back to the hotel, I thanked Hakim and asked how much money I could give him for the journey. We hadn’t discussed money before the trek began. Hakim’s startled expression was followed by, “nothing my friend, I only want you to love my country.”   I was speechless and in awe at the same time.

Before Hakim drove away, he simply said, “I’ll be in touch.”

I went back into the hotel. I started thinking, “ok, Hakim told me he’d be in touch with me, but how?”  He didn’t have my phone number; I didn’t give him my email.  He only had my name.

Months went by.   I was in Texas and I received a phone call from the gallery manager, the gallery that represents my work.  Kelly said, “Mark, there is this man on the phone, he has an accent and he’s asking for you.”

Immediately, I knew who was calling.  It was Hakim.

You never really know when you’re traveling who you will meet.  And, you never really know the long lasting friendships or relationships you’ll create along the way.

It was a year or two later, I’m sure two years after meeting Hakim, he called me. I was in Texas, he was in Marrakech and he said, “Mark!  I have this great idea for you.

I thought to myself, “oh my god, here we go.” “What is it,” I asked?

“I want you to come back to Morocco,” Hakim said, “I want you to go with me.  We’re going to walk on a trail that has been traveled for thousands of years with a nomadic tribe.”  Berber nomads.

It took me about ten seconds to say yes.  “I’ll be there. Tell me what day, I’ll be there.”

Walking with the nomads is an entirely different story of learning about myself and learning about the Moroccan culture, and the simplicity of life.

More importantly, I look at the Moroccan way of life, then looking back at us in the Western world.  I always think how much we in America and Europe really do complicate matters.

Know and understand that photography can be more than taking photographs.  Photography is more than owning a camera.

I’ve said this throughout the blog and I’ll repeat it again here – open your heart and open your mind.  Let whatever happens, happen.  Take it all in; the experience, take it all in.

Photography can really be an education for you.

I know it has been for me.

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