Driving 1200 km across the Maghreb country with fashion photographer and globe-blogger Yvan Rodic, we discuss how we invent our identity through pieces of the world.

Yvan Rodic © Hadassa Haack

Yvan Rodic © Hadassa Haack

Morocco is a country of contrast. From the white walls and Mediterranean climate of Tangiers, past the famous blue pigment of Chefchaouen in the Rif Mountains, down the Atlantic surf shores and across to the red desert sands surrounding Marrakech. Young creative people making their mark in the international fashion, film and design world whilst teetering on the walls of old values; artisans continuing the centuries-old traditions of their ancestors in quiet back alleys, while companies like Prada and Armani reside in the glamorous Morocco Mall in Casablanca.

Driving through Morocco requires full attention and, occasionally, nerves of steel. Seemingly suicidal teenagers on scooters, old men on overloaded bikes, donkey carts that have no rear view mirrors and potholes the size of Gibraltar make participating in traffic an adventure in itself.

Photographing people in the streets is equally challenging. Fashion week scenarios where people are expecting or even hoping to be photographed are non-existent. Older people in rural areas often do not appreciate having their photos taken, and children are likely to ask for money for it.

Fortunately, Swiss-born Yvan Rodic, known in the fashion world as the FaceHunter, is not your ordinary street style photographer. Having just returned from a hell raising cross-country trip through Armenia, nothing fazes him as we roll across the Atlas mountains and momentarily get lost in Marrakech’s medina, where the GPS ends and madness begins. The digital nomad (or blog-trotter as he calls himself) — whose two sites garner approximately 1 million hits per month — searches for the shot that conveys the spirit of the city and the people that occupy it. And this country offers more than an eye-full on every corner that we turn.

We sit down for a chat on the roof terrace of our Riad in Marrakech to review our 3-day adventure (see video above):

[Fuel consumption combined: 4,5–4,2 l/100 km | CO2 emission combined: 117–109 g/km*]

So this is your first time in Morocco. What is your impression of the country?
I think Morocco has an incredible diversity and sense of detail when it comes to aesthetics, decoration, architecture and interior design. Almost everywhere you go there’s a very sophisticated sense of putting elements together. The contrast is also interesting. For instance, you can be in one street and see poverty and underdevelopment, and then in the next street you’ll step right back into the 21st century.  

We have also witnessed a great diversity in terms of the people we’ve met. How was approaching individuals here compared to other countries?
Rabat is one of the bigger cities and people are more connected with the Internet there, and thus used to interacting with strangers – quite the opposite of how people responded to being photographed in the countryside. Marrakesh is diverse as well – it’s so touristic that when you enter the Medina people are tired of having their picture taken. So it’s a bit tricky, and an interesting learning process of how best to approach people without seeming too invasive or annoying. I would say it’s been one of the most challenging trips for me in terms of photographing the people I wanted to shoot.

There are two sides to your work: You shoot very stylish, beautiful people, mostly in fashionable areas. But then you also go off the beaten track to document life as it is. Do you sometimes find it difficult to consolidate these two worlds in your work?
It’s different, but at the same time they go together. On Yvan Rodic I combine more traditional and contemporary elements. The FaceHunter blog is more about style, more urban style, but sometimes I do put more traditional elements into it. I like to mix it up. In the last few years blogging has become very polished, almost too clean, too brand-related – I like to spice it up with less-known destinations and include, for instance, an old man in traditional clothing amidst stylish girls. It’s refreshing.

There’s an enormous amount of content out there – how can young people hoping to follow your example stand out from the crowd with their work? And where do you see yourself going with yours?
I think the mainstream tendency is to just follow the Fashion Weeks. So, for example, you would go to Paris Fashion Week and take pictures of famous editors. That’s somehow what works, but it’s already so busy that you’re not going to stand out. My suggestion is to find a territory where you can tell a different story. My story is about travelling and discovering new places – and showing that style isn’t a monopoly of the big fashion capitals. It’s something you can also find in Jakarta, Marrakesh or Lima, Peru.

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Speaking of travel: you’re in a different city virtually every week, or almost every day. What does it take? Do you have to be an extroverted person by nature?
I used to be more introverted, but because I like discovering I became less so over time. One thing is for sure: you need to be able to talk to people – that’s my way of travelling at least. You might meet someone and they’ll tell you about a festival or something else that’s happening somewhere, and introduce you to their friends – that’s one of the key methods to discovering a country without just reading a travel guide.

The secret to packing for several months on the go?
Be ready for every climate possible – lama wool beanie for arctic conditions and espadrilles for tropical weather, so you avoid surprises.

Apart from your tech gear, what can’t you live without?
My Rimowa suitcases, avocados and coconut water.

With all the places you’ve been to, and all the different cultures you’ve seen, what to you would be one universal aspect, the same wherever you go?
Nowadays with digital media and Internet culture, people define their identity less in accordance with geography. There’s a new global fantasy of working on your identity. A few decades ago, people were victims of their destiny. Our grandparents were born into one family, in one place, and that defined the way they would dress, act and live, forever. In our generation, we like the idea of curating our own lives and our styles, and everything we do. People in Morocco, Australia and Brazil read blogs and listen to all kinds of music, and they’re building their profiles – online and offline – using elements from different eras and regions. That’s what I call the new Creole Culture: we invent our identity through pieces of the world.

Was this career path obvious in your childhood already?
I don’t think it was obvious but I was very curious, always hungry for knowledge and discovery. I was obsessed with maps – I had this map of the world that was my biggest source of excitement. I would travel just by crawling around on it, learning every country, every capital and dreaming of going everywhere.

I’m curious why you do what you do, on a personal level. What are you interested in?
What I’m interested in when I travel is to try to understand how different cultures can still be unique and have their own identity – and at the same time belong to globalisation. I think that’s a fascinating game: how the individual and society are moving towards everything that is the same, and at the same time very unique. Every photo is a new answer to this question.

What would you like your legacy to be?
I’d like people to remember me for collecting faces from every corner of the world. But especially for showing the contemporary vibe and culture of cities that are either little known or only known for their traditional side.

What are you grateful for at this point in your life?
I’m grateful to be working with what I love, to be so free and to be able to be surrounded by so many different cultures.

Thanks Yvan, for being a great road trip companion and for the visual diary you have created for us.

See the film “Telling a Different Story” (shot and directed by Brett Novak) above and more of Yvan’s photos below. More on Yvan’s website here and here.

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Photos © Yvan Rodic