The World's Biggest Photography Museum

posted by Bridget on 22 November 2013

Marrakech in Morocco is soon to house the largest photographic museum, but its citizens appear to distrust the medium.

Taking photographs of people in the street is an increasingly vexatious occupation. In France, the privacy laws make it almost impossible without the permission of the passers-by. In the UK, threats of terrorism see photographers regularly pounced upon by the community police force, ignorant of our right to photograph in public places.

So why is it surprising, in a world suspicious of a photographer's intent, for the inhabitants of Marrakech to protest when a bevy of Magnum photographers land in their city to capture their daily lives. Perhaps our surprise is derived from the legacy of our imperialist history, where it was excepted that white explorers could set off to the exotic lands of the east to see how other civilizations existed.

Or perhaps we fail to understand that in an era when photography is so ubiquitous the idea of intrusiveness and privacy has become ever more prevalent.

For Susan Meiselas, one of the five Magnum photographers commissioned by the new Moroccan Photography Museum to document daily life in Marrakech, her struggle to find "a small window" into this other world, led her into a direct conflict between Islam and gender politics. Her solution to facing opposition on the streets was to set up a pop-up studio and invite women to have their portraits taken and the resulting photographs offer us a small glimpse of how comfortable or not they felt under the direct gaze of the lens.

susan meiselas

But more than that Meiselas also managed to tackle the complexity of women's position with the Islamic world, by not only encouraging women to be photographed but by allowing them to choose whether or not to take part. It is this question of choice that lies at the heart of her challenge and perhaps it is a sense of disenfranchisement from an ability to choose that is felt more broadly that makes us, as a society, hostile and suspicious of photography practised on the street.

To read more about the Marrakech Photography Museum read Sean O'Hagan's review for The Guardian or Francis Hodgson's piece for the FT.

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