With her interest in showing a slice of life in her destination through the locals, 18-year-old Ana Maria Monjardino found herself taking on a different approach to this inclination during a summer trip to Morocco. Instead of capturing welcoming smiles or vibrant street life, she chose to obscure her subjects’s form and faces, something that perhaps many street and travel photographers would advise against. However, the resulting series, “The Hidden Faces of Chefchaouen,” became more of a social commentary than a travel documentary; it was Ana Maria’s reaction to being subjected to the penetrating gaze and unwanted attention from Moroccan men.
While triggered by the male attention, this response was also an intriguing observation into how the local women appeared to be exempted from it. “In general the male gaze was so crude and unrestrained, yet when it came to ‘their own’ women, the supposed ‘desexualizing’ of her body was mandatory,” Ana explained.
Read the rest of our featured traveler’s story and the motivations behind her photo series in the interview below!
Can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell us what you do? How long have you been shooting with film? Anything keeping you busy or inspired aside from film photography?
My name is Ana Maria, I’m 18 and I’ve been using the medium of photography for the past 3 years. I have always been most fascinated by people, and recently, abstract methods in my portraits has been a strong tool of mine. I’ve had a little Praktica Z-60 since I was 7 or 8, but it wasn’t until I was 15 that I began to use my mum’s old Olympus OM-10. At this point I also learned to develop my film and work in the darkroom, an experience I adore even now. Other than film photography I spend a lot of time doing aimless doodles. They’re not particularly extraordinary but I do have a sort of obsession with creating weird little characters on the pages of my history books.
Please share with us some basics about your trip around Morocco. When did you visit, which cities did you traverse, and how long did you travel around? What were your first impressions or expectations?
I visited Morocco last summer. We (me and my mum) took the ferry from Seville, Spain, to Tangiers, Morocco. My first impression, upon arriving in Tangiers was an overwhelming sense of being in another continent. I had never before traveled outside Europe, and I was surprised to feel such a difference. We stayed in Tangiers for a few days and from there we went to Fez, another large city. It felt less ‘urban’ than Tangiers, but was still quite overwhelming. I have two specific memories of Fez. One, the overwhelming heat; and two, the overwhelming male gaze. It isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy my experience, it was just difficult to do so with the constant feeling of strangers touching you with their eyes. Following Fez we went to Chefchaouen, a town in the mountains. This experience was much more peaceful than the rest; it was a town I could easily see myself staying in forever, without hesitation.
You mentioned to us how you were made uncomfortable by unwanted attention and gaze from the local men while wandering around towns, so much that it became your most vivid memory from your trip. What was the most extreme act or gesture that you were subjected to? What did you do to discourage or stop them from causing you so much distress?
While waiting outside a small shop, within one of Fez’s major Souks, I was approached by a middle aged man. He nattered at me in Moroccan, at a rapid pace. My wizen and eccentric Moroccan tour guide explained what he had said. He had asked me if I wanted a husband. If I did, he said, then he would happily wed me to his son. The man stared at me with an expression that showed the situation was no joke; it was a genuine offer. Looking back on it the situation seems funny to me, but in the moment I was extremely uncomfortable.
In contrast to the harassment you felt, was/were there anyone who made you feel safe or helped ease your discomfort?
Being with my mum for the trip eased any discomfort. I enjoyed travelling with another woman in the same position as me, but also being with someone who made me feel safe. The tour guide we unintentionally met was another highlight of the trip. He was undoubtedly the most eccentric character I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. He knew almost everyone one we passed as we wondered through the city, and most importantly he knew the place like the back of his hand. He did not show us every historical landmark, like you may expect a tour guide to, instead he showed us his city, his way.
For your series entitled “The Hidden Faces of Chefchaouen,” you decided to photograph the locals but took note to obscure their faces. Did you feel that by doing so, you were somehow reversing the extreme attention you experienced? If you could go back and put together an entirely new series to document the distress you felt, what would you do instead?
To an extent yes, I have reversed the attention I experienced. However, in reversing it what I hope to have done is to have exaggerated the significance of observation and visual identity. In general the male gaze was so crude and unrestrained, yet when it came to ‘their own’ women, the supposed ‘desexualizing’ of her body was mandatory. If I were to go back I may look at the topic from the perspective of ‘the silent woman’. What I fear to have done in my current images is to have taken away her voice, just as the man has done already. In a current portraiture project of mine, I am further exploring the ‘veil’ as a form of oppression. I intend to consider its role from the perspective of the woman who wears it, rather than the man who put it on her.
What do you consider to be the highlight of this trip? Any places of interest or landmarks to recommend to anyone thinking of visiting the towns you’ve been to?
Chefchaouen was undoubtedly the highlight of my trip. Its beauty resonates in my memory; the blue city. I am usually more inclined to visit large cities, maybe because I have lived in North London my whole life. This trip was the first time I had given preference to a small rural town. I cannot really recommend any particular landmarks as such, as we didn’t really look for any. Everything we saw was by chance. Perhaps this means we missed out on a lot, but it also means we saw a lot of places, unidentified in a travel guide, that we would not have otherwise seen.
Can you give an important piece of travel advice for film photographers like yourself, especially for those who find themselves compelled to take photos as a form of social commentary based on their travels?
The only recommendation I can give, being an amateur myself, is to always have your camera around your neck with the lens cap off, hand on aperture, ready to shoot. Don’t allow yourself to miss an opportunity. If you see something that may be a good picture then just take it because if you don’t, you’ll always be left thinking about “what ifs.”
Lastly, if you could take just one camera and one roll of film to a dream destination, where would it be, which camera and film would you bring, and what will you make sure to take photos of?
If I could take one camera, I would take my old Olympus OM-10. It’s as simple as they come. But, for some reason, it just feels the most comfortable; maybe because it was the first camera I ever used; I’m not sure. There is no point in using a bulky, fancy, techy camera if you don’t feel comfortable with it. If I feel relaxed then my pictures look relaxed. I always tend to go for a standard Ilford PAN Black and White film, even though this means one day I’ll see a multicolored elephant and never forgive myself…
My dream destination would have to be Japan. I am just as intrigued to see its rural side as I am to experience the hustle and bustle of Tokyo itself. Again, people will always be my prime interest. The is something so uninspiring abut photographs with no human presence; I lose interest within a few moments no matter how beautiful the scene.
To see more of Ana Maria’s work, please head to the link below: