Only My Honesty Matters

Not many people know, I used to be an actor. It started every Monday morning in the lift, feigning interest in other people’s weekends. Then, from my inbox, mustering replies like the office of Mr Blonde. Most of the time, work was an improv scene about a middle manager who gives a shit. I must have been convincing. They paid me too much to leave. Some days, I even convinced myself. But as time went on, my alter ego grew weary and began to forget his lines. The pretence and politics of corporate life had turned me into someone I did not want to be. 

Maybe that was the price for not having a plan. I became part of someone else’s and failed to course correct. Then, a wise man told me something that struck a chord. “If you have something to say and don’t say it, you’re lying.” It made sense. The real me had got lost in the expectations of others. And continuing the charade felt like an act of self-betrayal. It was time to bring down the curtain on my acting career.

The first drops of antidote came via a course on documentary photography. It was the most fulfilling thing I’d done in years, and I could glimpse a more gratifying future. But as I explain in a previous project, We Can’t Stop What’s Coming, the pandemic response derailed my photographic journey and snuffed out my urge to create. And things only got back on track during my time in the Mexican wilderness while making Boy in the Better Land.

It was in Mexico that I realised my inspiration, and maybe my wellbeing too, is derived from two things. Newness and nowness. The freedom to explore unfamiliar places and cultures fuels my creative process in a way that is not possible at home. And the time limitation that comes with travel puts me in the moment and motivates me to shoot more often. With this knowledge and a wife wholeheartedly sold on the idea of long-term travel, we embarked on a life with no fixed abode where the muse is our north star.

Our search for truth and freedom has brought me to Morocco. The hippy hangout of the sixties that attracted the likes of Jim Morrison, Paul McCartney, and Jimi Hendrix. Despite the daily offers of hash, I’m not here to rock the casbah. My highs will be photographic. Not that the locals make it easy for me. The concept of aniconism in Islam causes many to complain about cameras pointed even vaguely in their direction. 

In the souks and town squares Looky Looky Men are on the prowl. Their watches are fake, but the time is real. And image-conscious punters with a penchant for forgeries are their target. Me, I'm not interested in deceptive dealings. My camera is looking for unguarded moments and the cultural nuances that reveal the truth about the human condition and society. These details get me to reflect on the parallels and differences with the social norms in my world.

The local women are a mystery. Most go incognito and give the likes of me a wide berth. Men, on the other hand, are the opposite, dishing out unsolicited directions to any foreigner that will listen. At six-foot-three, my bucket hat and languid demeanour put me in the crosshairs. Some streets are forbidden, apparently, while other places are a must-see. I'm not sure who put these strangers in charge of my itinerary. So, I mirror their trickery with some faux deafness and a vacant stare.

That word, forbidden, is a common theme around here. It’s Ramadan, the holiest of months when followers refrain from food and falsehoods. And fill their minds with all things spiritual. The stringency runs counter to my free-thinking instincts. However, I admire their resolve. The closeness of the community is something to behold. Most people seem to enjoy this time of year, but there are exceptions. The heat and hunger shorten tempers, and domestic arguments boil over into the street.

Observing people with a strong sense of conformity highlights how the desire to be part of the group motivates our behaviour. Belonging is a human need, after all. But so is self-actualisation. Navigating a path between the two is a game we all need to play. My new lifestyle outside the comfort of a corporate career is an attempt to find that balance. Going against the consensus in Morocco seems like it might be difficult. 

For me, the mainstream is more like a river. And you only find out how strong the current is when you try to swim against it. But the need for social acceptance has dropped down my list of priorities. I’m trying to be myself and let the chips fall where they may. 

It has become obvious to me that authenticity is a subjective truth that sits in the gut of the beholder - an intuition tuned by self-awareness and internal honesty that can lead us to freedom. But it’s not without struggle and compromise. Family, friends, and society form expectations about our future and how we should lead our lives. So, living the good life is about knowing when following the herd is in my best interests and finding the courage to go my own way when it isn't.

We live in a post-truth world. Trump and Brexit were the tip of the iceberg. Nowadays, everything seems up for grabs. Big Tech censor factually correct opinions, morning TV debate biological realities, and politicians turn conspiracy theories into spoiler alerts. With social media and AI compounding the situation, the truth is not what it used to be. So, this is not the time to play to the gallery. Society has enough actors. I’m no longer one of them. Trust me.

Morocco; Marrakech, Casablanca, Essaouira (Mar - Apr 2023)

Zine available to purchase and preview on Blurb: 37 photographs & a 1,000-word essay

Substack post about my creative process 


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