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The photo I missed: A nation’s grief in Morocco


Wide-eyed with concern, tourists ran to the safety of their hotels and clambered up to the roof. The streets had become a river of people singing, chanting, yelling, crying. History was unfolding. Without a thought, I ran downstairs, camera in hand. But I let the most iconic image slip through my hands. I missed the shot.

What was happening?

The beloved King Hassan II, who reigned over Morocco for 38 years, passed away. People took to the streets weeping, chanting, singing songs of praise and flowing through the streets. They carried banners and pictures of their beloved king. It was July 23, 1999. We were witnessing history.

Picture of King Hassan II, Meknes Morocco.
Getting emotional. Missing their beloved King Hassan II. Meknes, Morocco.

Taking to the streets

In Arabic countries, people often express their happiness, grief, anger or disbelief by taking to the streets. But this was a particularly large event.

Intrigued, I moved with the crowds. I took photos. I gave weeping men hugs. Women nodded their heads sadly at me while singing or weeping. I photographed people posing with framed pictures of the king that they had taken down from their living spaces.

The crowds marched through the streets, their songs echoing off the buildings as others joined in hanging out of windows above.

The image that got away

Mourning King Hassan II.
Every street I saw in Meknes was a river of people, a very public outpouring of grief, song and tears, mourning their lost King.

On a cobblestone street in a picturesque part of Meknes, the crowd hoisted a distraught young man on their shoulders, lifting him high above the crowd. He was wrapped in the red flag with a star, the flag of Morocco. His eyes tearing, his face stuck out of the flag, which was now catching a breeze, flowing behind him. It looked gloriously sad, encapsulating how the crowd felt, the grieving of Morocco, all in one image. At one point, everyone lifted their fists in unity.

I immediately aimed my camera, focused, and … nothing. I had turned off the camera. That fleeting moment had come and gone.

Almost frantically, I followed crowds for over two hours. I was thirsty, hot and hungry. I was chasing something in my mind. However, nothing like this scene ever occurred. I never saw anything even remotely that iconic or symbolic of the day again.

My time in Morocco

Morocco is a very special, beautiful country. I played basketball with locals, had strange and wonderful experiences, had a sudden surprise kiss from a beautiful Moroccan woman in a stairwell in Essaouira, played music everywhere and explored the countryside where no other tourists went. With a Nikon N70 SLR film camera and a 70-300mm lens in hand, I photographed much of it.

Jemaa el-Fnaa, Marrakesh Morocco.
The greatest outdoor market on earth, Jemaa el-Fnaa Square, Marrakech, Morocco.

But throughout the rest of the trip to Morocco. Even now, many years later, the shot I missed still gnaws at me.

Travelers in Morocco.
Some of the charming travelers I met along the way. I met a Japanese backpacker named Keiko, far right, in Morocco and traveled with her for two weeks.

All photos were scanned with an ancient CanoScan 8600F from 3×5 prints, and were taken with a Nikon N70 and 70-300mm f/4-5.6 G lens.



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Rafael Jones

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