Photographer's Note

Hard work at the tannery

Tanning is the process of treating skin of animals to produce leather. Traditionally, it used tannin, hence the name. Its utility is to make the skins rotproof. Moroccan leather has been known for centuries for its good quality and reasonable prices. To illustrate this, just think that in French the word "maroquinerie", introduced in early 1600s, designs the industry using fine leather to make goods like wallets, handbags, belts, etc. Still today, the leather industry plays a key role in Morocco’s economy (production of about 227 million Euros in 2008 according to, with the shoe industry being its most important segment.

Working in a tannery like this one in Marrakech seems hard work in difficult conditions. Here the French saying "Quand on se regarde on se désole, quand on se compare on se console" totally applies for me. Part of the difficult conditions is the awful smell. Any dedicated improvised guide is likely to tell you that the smells are due to using guano and pigeon droppings. I suspect that there might also be other not so friendly compounds and that it’s not a very sanitary place to be day after day, but I haven’t researched this aspect of things. Perhaps that one gets used to the bad smells and the occasional happy tourists popping through your office’s door; I prefer not to try. Photos of Moroccan tanneries are not a rarity, especially those from Fez, but often taken from surrounding roofs and so a little further from the action.

I said several times to friends that Morocco is, in my opinion, one of the most photogenic countries. I visited three times, my first time in late 70s when I was a teenager experiencing his first big trip abroad. Over the following decades, I think there has been a kind of shift in the attitude of people towards photography, perhaps especially among young people, and the last time I had to face situations close to paranoiac crises that would have just seemed unimaginable 30 years ago. Real change or personal feeling due to bad luck? That being said, I consider myself respectful of people in any circumstances and I don’t try to impose my values while being a guest in a foreign country. Ironically, if only a few of my TE photos were stolen (and utilized elsewhere) since I began posting here, all those that were stolen were from Morocco! Not that I mind so much, it’s just a hobby after all. No, it’s just that this makes my recent photo-related experience with Moroccans looks even more bizarre.

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Additional Photos by Claude Belanger (cebe) Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 155 W: 13 N: 294] (1491)
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