A Monkey's Revenge - My Blog

'Us' and 'them'

I've never been a proponent of the 'us' and 'them' school of thought. The 'us' being photographers and the 'them' being writers. I prefer to work as a team and enjoy the crossover of ideas rather than antipathy towards each other.

I had a graphic reminder of how we are or should be on the same side during a trip to Africa last week. Or Spain, depending on your point of view. I was working with the brilliant writer Fiona Govan for The Sunday Telegraph in Ceuta, which is a Spanish-controlled garrison town in Morocco and bears an obvious comparison with UK-controlled Gibraltar.

I'll lay my cards on the table and mention that Fiona is a friend I used to work with regularly at the Telegraph, but haven't seen for a few years since her move to live and work in Spain. We met up in Ceuta then headed off for the arab part of town near the border. The border itself is like something from a Mad Max film- we visited that too and I was amazed at the scenes of mayhem as human 'mules' carry oversized bags and plastic and string wrapped giant parcels from Spain into Morocco. The goods are duty free from Spain, carried across and earning the carriers a few dirhams for each trip. On the Moroccan side of the border large numbers of extremely battered taxis wait in a chaotic jumble with honking of horns and drivers jabbering away to each other in arabic amidst the dust and the heat.
You can see a very good explanation at this site.

At the arab part of Ceuta we met the locals outside their colourful but ramshackle appartments and winding close packed streets. Trying to take photos was near impossible as the arabs do not like to be photographed and it was frustrating seeing fantastic photo opportunities that came and went. Battered and dying vehicles parked haphazardly everywhere and scooters and cars driven at reckless speed inches away from pedestrians in the narrow streets.
This is where without Fiona I'd have been unable to work and would probably have ended up beaten up and/or robbed,(as it was we were apparently told several times to leave the area or get robbed).

I don't speak Spanish, but Fiona is fluent and was able to talk to the local arabs, (although it's fair to say we were as welcome as a dog in a game of skittles). She spotted some little arab girls playing 'cat's cradle' with a piece of elastic and we asked permission to photograph. As always happens in these situations the kids then formed a group and posed for the camera-NOT what I wanted! Fiona physically showed them what I wanted by being the 'jumper' in the middle and the girls understood and did that. Just as I went to take the photo a little arab girl kept posing right in front of the camera, ruining the shot. Fiona once again came to the rescue and motioned the little girl and her friends to one side where she photographed them on her iphone and thus distracted them long enough for me to get my shot above. 

You can read Fiona Govan's excellent story here.

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