Five years ago we went on a road trip around Morocco. The journey was one of the last times I used film and it taught me a lot about the beauty of the chance encounter and magic of the single frame.

Our epic road trip across Morocco ended with us being stuck in the Marrakech medina behind a donkey with obvious flatulence problems, my navigator Lara irritated for having gotten us into the mess, and neither the mother-in-law nor the snowboard in the back providing much entertainment.

It could have made for a bad road movie script — Mayhem in Marrakech.

On that journey — in which we covered 1,011 kms — we would often meet children along the way. Or rather they would ‘meet’ us by suddenly appearing out of the middle of nowhere, and running out onto the road to greet us.

The more miles we did the more we prepared ourselves for these strange encounters, Lara gathering a bag of biros, writing pads, water bottles, snacks, and sweets — but sweets only as a last resort, as the last thing these kids with their bad teeth needed was sugary treats.

One day we were driving in a desolate landscape that was more like a moonscape, with endless arid rocky plains backed by a craggy mountain range.

As we drove along we noticed a small clump of palm trees — the only trees we had seen for hours. I stopped the car to frame the trees to create a stark photograph with the trees punctuating the desert to show just how barren the landscape was.

As I took the photo I heard voices. Two children and a donkey appeared out of nowhere. It was not clear where they could possibly have come from, as there was nothing around.

We exchanged greetings in Arabic, gave them some gifts, and I made one frame before they rode off.

Back then I was still using slide film and it was my last frame on that roll. If you look closely between the boys you can still see the palms I had been photographing.

For some time I used this photo as the desktop background for my laptop. It always reminded me of the magic that comes from the chance encounters that Morocco is particularly gifted at giving.

Notes on the Photo

This was one of the last trips where I used my film cameras. I had both a Nikon F100 and a Nikon FM2.

The F100 is my favourite 35mm film camera ever and the FM2 was a tank — Lara had two camera straps break with hers and both times it hit the ground hard and the thing still worked.

I was using Fuji Velvia and Provia and scanning my film with a Nikon Super Coolscan 500 ED.

I shot a lot of rolls of film in Marrakech and right across Morocco and my scanned images made it into my first feature story — something of which I was very proud.

Shooting digital and seeing it in print will never have the same effect of seeing that single magic image that captured a chance encounter like the one I’ve described.

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