Vagabond with roots
by Zakaria Mtilk

There are places where the harmony with people, the elements and the passing of time is so deeply rooted in us that it creates identity. Every being, every corner, every alley, every change of light, every time of day is then revealed in a random interplay, a grace that strikes the eye and the heart.

I was born and raised in Essaouira, where I trained myself to be a photographer, both culturally and photographically. My excursions through the city and its surroundings, always with my camera in hand, are one big homage to this city. But not only that. It is also its inhabitants who, with their depth, joy, openness and distance, create a fertile field of observation in which time no longer plays a role. This rich heritage is constitutive for me as a photographer.

Day after day, incessantly, I undertake a journey into my inner being to try to extract the essence: capturing a moment that makes visible the multifaceted identity of this place where life shows itself so uniquely. Each photo I choose is a return to Morocco, a vibrant gratitude towards this land so favourable to my visual, affective and emotional unfolding.

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Zakaria Mtilk is a Moroccan photographer living in Essaouira. We meet him in a hair salon. Although it is already past 8 pm, it is still light in Essaouira and the salon offers a pleasant shelter from the rough wind blowing through the streets. While the shaving machine hums and the hair falls to the floor, Zakaria enthusiastically tells us about life in Essaouira and his work as a street photographer.

What do you like about your city?

I love Essaouira because it gives me everything I could wish for: Security, stability, the good taste, lifestyle, cultural and spiritual enrichment. And Morocco in general inspires me, but Essaouira even more because it is a city of all colours and religions and nationalities. I love Essaouira very much.

How do you work? Do you deliberately go on photo tours or do you always have your camera with you in everyday life?

To be honest, photography is part of my everyday life. Even when my mother just sends me out shopping, I take my camera with me so that I don’t miss a scene. A friend of mine who is a photographer in Paris once said to me, „Zack, when you leave the house, you always have your keys with you.“ And he told me that it should be the same with the camera. „Keys open doors, your camera will open worlds for you.“

What kind of images or impressions arouse your interest? Which motifs interest you?

The images that the world presents to me. It is the life of the people on the street, how they move, how they work, and also the attitude of the people towards the world.

Is there an intention behind your compositions? Why do you photograph in black and white?

It’s a pure feeling. The composition comes automatically. I don’t look for it too much. I like the bio-geometry of life. I don’t strive for the photos to be perfect, I take things as they come. Life is the true artist in my eyes.

I use black and white photography to guide the viewer to certain emotions or themes, and not to be distracted by the colours. And I also think it is timeless. And because I am inspired by Cartier-Bresson, Rebert Douano, Elliott Erwitt, Sabine Weiß.

What do you document in your pictures? How is Essaouira changing?

Everything changes all the time: the clothes, the habits, the culture, the people who will one day be gone … everything interests me. I walk in my city, Essaouira, and I see many tourists with their cameras, but they only take holiday photos. So I took the initiative and the responsibility to make a photo archive for the history of the people of Essaouira. And I like to do it. Essaouira will become like a brand, like a clothing store with cars, and we have to be careful not to fall into the same mistakes as Marrakech. Let’s keep the city wild and with its soul!

How would you describe the light in Essaouira?

Aaaaah, the light. For me, it’s the secret of a successful photo. Experienced photographers say that Essaouira is a photographer’s paradise, in the early morning and in the afternoon from 5:30pm onwards it is magical here, especially with the white houses even brighter.

How does Russian literature, which you love, influence your work?

Yes, Russian literature opened my eyes to many things. Gogol and Dostoyevsky and especially Michael Bulgakov – The Master and Margarita. Life is beautiful, but it can also be cruel and hard. I have had experiences in the books that I could never have imagined. When you read, you have pictures in your head. And when you see pictures, words come with them. Injustice, misery, joy, jealousy, shame, but also harmony and serenity.

Zakaria Mtilk is a Moroccan photographer with an obsession for observing human nature. For cooperation requests, please write to akono or to Zakaria directly.


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