Scarlett Coten Paris, France & Marrakech, Morocco
In 2009, I started going to Morocco very often and for a long time I tried to find out how I could speak personally and appropriately about these very complex Arab societies, which were searching for freedom. My first thought as a female photographer was that I didn’t want to talk about the status of women, which naturally worried me terribly, in a direct way, that is to say by photographing women. The approach which consisted of blending into their world: the house or places reserved for women, appeared to me to be already well covered and I didn’t have any fantastic ideas about how I could enrich what had already been done. On the other hand, as I had total freedom as a foreigner to go wherever I wanted, I noticed I was mainly surrounded by men. From this reality was born my desire to photograph them.
In 2012, I set off on this adventure, by taking the initiative in order to experience encounters and intimacy, firstly in Moroccan towns and then in Egypt. I was curious to find out what would come of a confrontation about which neither ‘they’, nor me, were used to. My feeling was that in confidential setting, they would be able to give up some of their privacy. This would mean I would have to achieve a ‘closeness’. The first challenge in a country where photography is commonly looked on with suspicion was to be able to convince these people to reconsider their refusal to be photographed. The upheavals which had taken place in the Arab world ever since the Arab Spring, a year before, had shown these men as determined to change mentalities, I wanted to find out how this would work out in a face to face meeting with a woman and if whether being a foreigner would encourage them to reveal themselves freely. The camera gives me this power to be able to approach strangers. In the street and the cafés, I go up to men that I have chosen intuitively because of their aura. I explain to them that what I want to do as a photographer is an attempt to show them as they really are and so undermine certain clichés and that this project is an alternative to the interest that is normally given in their countries to the status of women.
Up to now, many men have accepted my proposition.
I arrange to meet them in a place I have found, inside a house, an empty café or the hallway of a building; a setting that inspires me, which speaks about the country where I find myself. I work instinctively, I let them move about without giving them any specific directions, up until the moment when, as they are tired, they give up their artificial posture and begin to reveal themselves and to express what is not displayed so easily in these countries. The photo shoot often continues in places they show me; sometimes they invite me to come with them to their homes. We finish the shoot when I think I have got an image I was looking for. It does not always work out every time, but their cooperation is always generous.
I think that these young men are filled with a desire to affirm their belonging to a shared struggle, that of freely living their own aspirations. And for them, much more than us, it is a dangerous fight.
This project is a pretext for participating in these encounters, in the same way as these encounters are a pretext to speak about these men and their countries based on real experiences. The result is an intimate documentary in which the dialogue between portraits and settings increases the reality with a fictional aspect and encourages the spectator to see these regions of the world through the prism of my own subjectivity, this work is not a sociological document, but nevertheless, it is a portrait of the societies in which I work.
Today, my objective is to continue the project in other towns of the Middle East and North Africa: Algiers, Tunis, Amman, Beirut, Ramallah, Teheran …