18. Bruno Barbey, A Scorching Beauty
Last month I attended an exhibition of Magnum photographer, Bruno Barbey’s work at The Empty Quarter Gallery in Dubai.
Barbey (b.1941) is a Frenchman, born in Morocco. He has travelled across five continents photographing numerous world conflicts. However, he does not consider himself to be a war photographer. This exhibition titled, Morocco: A Scorching Beauty shows a selection of photographs that Barbey has created showing his fascination with and love for the land of his childhood.
The first thing that I noticed about the photographs as I walked around was the strong use of reds, oranges, yellow and brown tones that were present it nearly in all of the images. It was shown in various hues on painted walls, fabrics, and wools and in the light cast by the Moroccan sun. The effect the colours seem to generate is of warmth, light, sand and the earth.
The photographs that I seemed most drawn to where composed quite simply.
One of these was Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, Meknes. 1985. The image show a two wall of a room, painted a pale orange colour. Around 2/3 of the way across the horizontal frame, the two wall meet and at his point sits an arched doorway. The floor of the room is decorated in a black, ochre, green and white mosaic tiles that also skirt the base of the walls. Beyond the tiling extends towards an orange wall in the distance. What really caught the eye is that walking adjacent to the wall is a figure; head bowed wearing a striped djellaba, a long-sleeved hooded robe traditionally worn in regions across North Africa. The figure is framed in the archway and one can only imagine how long it took Barbey to time this shot. I was also really drawn to the way the black and white of the djellaba seems to mirror the black and white in the tiling. As this is the only figure in the photograph, I did begin to wonder who it was, why where they there and where were they going? The figure has his head down and hands clasped behind his back. Both of these actions seem to give a quiet, contemplative feeling to the photograph.
I also found MOROCCO. Village of Maadid, near Erfoud. 2002 to be quite interesting. It shows a figure walking away from the camera wearing a white djellaba. The figure seems to be walking through a tunnel although slices of light intermittently break through gaps in the roof creating a pattern of alternate shadow and light ending in the white-clad figure silhouetted against shadow. The effect is quite striking and I again got the feeling of calm and quiet.
I considered why this would be. Was it the simplicity in the composition of both images or perhaps the long, hooded robe was evoking connotative associations for me of religion, prayer and reflection.
I also really like Avenue Oqba ben Nafi, Essoaouira. 1987, as it was labeled at the gallery. Although, somewhat confusingly, I found the same image on the Magnum website titled MOROCCO. Essaouira. 1987. Women resting along the ramparts. The majority of the horizontal image is taken up with a well-worn wall, painted orange. Two woman, one dressed in black the other in white, sit on the kerb at the bottom left of the frame. The sun has cast the shadow of castle’s rampart diagonally across the orange wall. While the shadow gives us the clue that they woman are sitting beneath a rampart, it is not the shadow but the woman who are the focal point of the image as a small archway of sunlight frames the sitting women. One does wonder why are they sitting there? I also wondered if perhaps they sat in the same place each evening or did Barbey capture a very unique moment in time?
Overall, the photographs tell the story of Morocco as a fascinating place, full of colour, character and traditions.
While the exhibition runs only until April the 17th, further details about Barbey’s work can be found at;
and also at