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Camera Conning

A Tale From Tangier

After some strange days in a rough Casablancan neighbourhood, I take the train north to Tangier. I watch the landscapes from the window—they change from stark and sandy to hilly and floral. The city is known for its blue buildings and is a stone’s throw away from Spain—it is a melting pot of languages and cultures. The spring climate brings a cool breeze from a salty sea to the coast and back to back sunny days accommodate the non touristy season. 

Settling in a cheap hostel to recover, I explore the city’s Medina that mostly sells stolen goods and knick-knacks. I hear different dialects shouted all around me. Smells of leather, exotic fruits, sweat and sand fill my nostrils. As I wipe sweat from my brow, I dodge men and women pushing carts and carrying bundles. I eventually stumble across a large box of old cameras. They rest in neglected disarray. I rummage through, finding a decent one. Using Moroccan haggling skills I had learnt from my Casablancan friends I speak with the vendor. I tell him some fibs to do with being a film camera expert visiting the city for the German film festival taking place there at the time, a festival I didn’t even know would be there and camera expertise, I do not have. I tell the man I can clean, fix and rearrange the cameras in his box for a camera and for a decent discount. He agrees. I dig into work under the African sun, ignoring the hustle and bustle around me.

I screw lenses that had been cast aside onto sleeping camera bodies. I dust his cameras and align them neatly, pretending to look like I know what I’m doing. I do so for a good hour. The Vendor stands by in belief (and disbelief). He is impressed by my work when really I am just orderly arranging them. 

Afterwards, he thanks me and chats with me over a rolled sample of local hashish. I gain some treasures from him. At a discount, he sells me a Fujica film camera from the 80s, (I picked out the nicest one) with additional lenses and leather cases. This would go on to serve me well. I haggle like a Moroccan.

The following days I learn my camera from scratch not knowing anything about them. Firstly, I take some photos, only to open the camera and find it empty—no film reel. I didn't know I needed to load it with film. You know that feeling you get when sunshine destroys you're film and your photos are lost? I had that feeling, except I never even had any photos in the first place. 

Now, with my first roll of film successful plugged into my new camera, I wander around narrow alleyways documenting Tangerian life. I find a small emporium down a cramped Medina side street that sells cameras. The shelves of the shop are filled to the ceiling with all things camera related. The shopkeeper is ancient and impatient. His frown adds more creases to his wrinkled face. He shows me how to use my Fujica and is at first frustrated with me. I get to grips with my gadget. I visit him during my remaining days in Morocco. After trial and error, I learn gradually. He shows more and more patience, clearly caring. By the end, I have befriended him. I show him some of my results, he seems satisfied. We engage in some small talk and for the first time, I learn his name which I have since forgotten. I leave with a strong handshake and a farewell, and I leave Tangier that night.

Some camera gear

Blue buildings in Tanger