Rabat - With almost a decade of experience, Omar Chennafi has become one of Morocco’s most well-known and loved professional photographers.
Rabat – With almost a decade of experience, Omar Chennafi has become one of Morocco’s most well-known and loved professional photographers.
Morocco World News sat down with Chennafi during the Fez Festival of Sacred Music to chat about the city of Fez, what photography means to him, and how he hopes to influence future generations with his mission and artistic work.
As is the case with most artists, Chennafi attributes his talent to something beyond his control. “I didn’t choose to be a photographer, photography chose me. It’s like your name. You don’t choose your name, it just happens.”
Chennafi fell in love with photography five years after being introduced to the art form, and has been actively photographing the world around him ever since. His photography has been featured in Time Magazine, The Huffington Post, and other publications worldwide. But for this young photographer, photography is about much more than making money or even taking pictures.
“Photography is not about how to hold or use a camera. Knowing how to use it is a wonderful thing, and really helps me understand photography as a way of telling a story and sharing it with others. But photography is really all about observing,” says Chennafi about what it takes to be a photographer. “It’s not about how to watch but how to observe. We forget about observation, that’s the problem. We watch so many thousands of images a day, but do we really observe something?”
When asked about photography in terms of art, Chennafi spoke of the complexities of photography. “Photography transmits a sensation,” Chennafi says. The key to creating an artistic photograph is to “photograph something real. Photograph a place, but capture its sound and action—this is art because we touch people’s emotions.”
“You must use your sensitivity as a photographer to transmit that sensation— that place, to other people, like they are there with you. This is a very important part of photography as an art platform,” he adds.
There is an age-old discussion about how to define art and what exactly the criteria needed to label someone as an artist is. Chennafi falls into the category of “artist” among the Moroccan public, especially in Fez. But he is a multi-faceted individual with multiple roles in the community, including that of a leader and an educator. For the past four years, Chennafi has served as the head of a photography club in Fez sponsored by the American Language Center, hosting 30 to 40 members, many of which have their own photography career now and are avid travelers and explorers, according to Chennafi. He works with these photographers to polish their skill, although his “teaching” policy differs slightly from the norm.
“I always tell the members of the photography club that we are here not to teach you but to introduce you to photography. You can just watch YouTube videos and you can be a professional photographer. You can be more of a technical genius than I, but I can’t teach you how to observe,” Omar Said.
In addition to reminding his own students about the importance of observation, Chennafi has bigger goals in mind for the future. “The goal of my long term project is to create the House of Photography, where people can come talk about photography, maybe exhibit their work and have a workshop about photography with coffee, for people that are interested in photography. I also want to introduce Morocco as a whole to photography. Because as the saying goes, one photograph is worth one thousand words.”
Chennafi’s “dream project” is to create something like the Museum of Photography that exists in Marrakech, but in his hometown of Fez.
Although Fez is not as big of a tourism hub as Marrakech, it has a lot of potential, says Chennafi. Fez is the cultural capital of Morocco, and thus holds remnants of the kingdom’s rich history. “Fez has preserved the authentic time, the authentic sensation; it feels like a medieval city.”
Omar Chennafi has made the city and its people the main subject of his photography for much of his career. “I exhibit my work in a couple of countries all around, it is such a wonderful honor because I’m doing this just to promote Fez. Fez is like my mother, I try to hold her hands and talk to her through photography. It sounds romantic but it’s just the way I see my work.”
Chennafi is involved in multiple photography projects to promote Fez, such as the Fez Festival for World Sacred Music, in which he served as one of the official photographers this year. “We’re thinking about publishing a book about Fez and doing a photo festival about Fez called Fez the Sacred. It is going to happen!” says Chennafi.
For Omar, Fez is a holy place, and it is sacred because of its rich history and culture. “For me, sacred is the universe sharing something, because the entire universe is sacred. Photography is a very universal language that everyone understands. Something sacred is created out of the harmony between two things: the people and the place.”
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