Her photos show that Zara Samiry is so reserved that she tries to protect others people’s life. At the age of 29, the young Casablancan woman likes being described as a “sound photographer”. In fact, she believes that sound and photography cannot be separated but only their combination can provide a reflection of the true in all its complexity. This is what she marvellously manages to produce in In the white town .
Casablanca: a town with an interesting population
In the white town , a first and unique of its kind web-documentary in Morocco draws up portraits of common people in Casablanca, “ouled chaab” *, as called here. Car keeper, pastry cook and also the cleaner …All these people we meet everyday and who are rather ignored or despised by the local bourgeoisie but who inhabit the city of Casablanca and represent the majority of its dwellers. They are the forgotten masses that constitute the vital breath of this megalopolis.
Zara Samiry’s colour photographs are as close as possible to reality. There is no setup or artificial décor distorting the final reproduction. We are directly immersed into interiors, life or work places of characters chosen at random. The result is gripping; we are literally fascinated by the everyday environment of these true beings, sharing with them rare intimacy.
Zara Samiry adds the sound she had previously recorded in interviews and also French subtitles to the set of photos. In order to make her interlocutors at ease and to get rid of their wariness, she talks to them about herself. The meeting then turns into a real exchange: “it has to be spontaneous; they direct the conversation without me losing control but sometimes I have to strive to make them speak about painful things”.
Editing is a long and meticulous work. It deals with selecting the most suggestive passages without altering the global discourse. It is not always obvious and that is why she respectfully decided to cut remarks when preparing the pastry cook’s portrait, as he disclosed himself too much. In the end, she finally names them, “not by their first names as it would be too reductive but by what mainly emerges from the portrait.” We therefore find words pointing out an attitude or a trait of character: “the uncertain,” “the mother” or also “the merchant.” They are generic names reflecting singular life courses but we guess they belong to thousands of Moroccans.
Zara Samiry, a photographer fascinated by other people’s stories
Zara Samiry is a subtle, introvert young woman revealing herself through her art even if she doesn’t really like to be considered as an artist. Instead, she prefers being qualified as a social photographer. Her work and inspiration are nourished by compassion. People scarred by life and who bear sufferings such as migrants are at the heart of her projet Exils, her first documentary series combining photo and sound presented for her Diplôme National Supérieur en Expression Plastique in 2010.
The young photographer has always admitted feeling out of touch from her home society: she does not understand its codes, lives outside the mould and does not recognise herself within a common Moroccan identity. In order to escape these imposed constraints she espaces to France to further her studies. This was a “caesarian rebirth” she says with a smile.
Exiled in Paris, things are sometimes difficult especially the solitude that she had to overcome as in Western societies it was the price to pay for uprooting the individual from the group. Yet, during those years in France, Zara Samiry becomes independent and learns to live as a liberated woman. She willingly admits that she went ahead by “electro shocks”. Doubts and challenges nourish creativity. After Paris, she moves to Rajasthan, alone.
Being a deeply reserved, Zara Samiry had to pluck up her courage to go toward the Other. She impulsively decided to go to India in 2009, with only 100 Euros and her camera. During these two weeks that seemed like eternity to her, she went through hunger and even extreme poverty but managed to face fear. This confrontation with the harsh reality of lives with no superfluous has been decisive for her work. That initiatory journey has allowed her to acquire a deep empathy, a necessary asset to practice photography.
The white town beyond appearances
This desire to talk of the voiceless is the result of a high sensitivity. Touched by her forgotten destinies, Zara Samiry tries to transcribe again these ignored lives in a society where you are nothing if you do not have anything. Yet, these invisible lives are the soul of Casablanca, town of a one thousand and one faces.
Collecting these unique testimonies is a way through which the photographer feels she belongs to this town and a way through which she transmits memory. Meeting these anonymous people and sharing “their experiences, stories, sorrow and pain, joys and hopes” has allowed her to reconcile with her hometown and go beyond the clichés and prejudices that burden her. Discovering life in its raw state, its beauty and its toughness was a salvation for her.
Thanks to “In the white town”, full of poetic aestheticism, the young photographer has managed to change her gaze on Casablanca and to face the country “she cowardly abandoned with an unfinished taste”, she admits. Casablanca is a town rich of its human potential besides its broken pavements and traffic, the crazy force of its women and men struggling for life.
With neither voyeurism nor sordid realism Zara Samiry has succeeded in paying a poignant tribute to these people. Their portraits radiate a deep dignity and also the modesty of those who life has not spared and who have nothing more to prove.
In the white town , a frantic atmosphere prevails: car horns, backfiring mopeds, inhabitants rushing about and trampling pavements with impassive faces and eyes fixed. A seagull flying offshore, a child begging in the street, pickpockets seeking their next victim, a mule pulling a cart, a crowded avenue: walking In the white town is like discovering both a psychology and sociology book. Between passion and routine, daily chores and vocation; anxiety and certitude, tragedy and hope, here in the white town , everybody tells their own extraordinary story, their feelings. Contrary to touristic clichés and negative representations, this web-documentary invites to the visual and sonorous (re)discovery of these Men and Women who draw Casablanca’s face. A face as passionate as it is worrying for me who was born and still lives In the white town .
*People s children
Marianne Roux Bouzidi.
Translated from French by Nabiha Abdelmoumen