Monday, October 22, 2012

A Mystical Discovery in Tangier: On a Recent Visit to Morocco, I Discovered the Poetic and Provocative New Photography of Tangier by French Artist Jean-Pierre Loubat

Come with me to the Casbah!

Meet a brilliant French artist to catch a glimpse of Tangier—classic images of today and yesterday. The past is always present.

This is my ‘Taste of Tangier’ story: I’ll be writing more about my visit to Tangier in the coming weeks.

I was in Tangier in September to conduct research on the culture, antiques and Moroccan crafts, and traditional interiors and houses, and to study the historic architecture of this most mysterious and rare place.

Situated in a wind-buffeted bay at the northern coast Morocco as it arches toward Europe, and on the northern-most tip of the African continent, Tangier is just a few miles across the Straits of Gibraltar from Spain (the lights twinkle in the distance at night).

From ancient ramparts and arched stone-framed windows, Tangier looks over the swirl of sea and ocean where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean.

Tangier has always been on my list of places I must visit. 

Tangier was for centuries on all the trade routes east and west and north and south, and at the crossroads of Greek and Roman and Carthaginian civilizations and exploration. At various points under the rule of Spain and France. It’s highly strategic, with CIA and other listening posts watching every movement of ships through the straits.

Today it is a town with a legacy of shady history to add to its allure. Best of all, for me, there are the intact citadels, the Casbah, wonderfully gregarious people, the decades of British eccentrics with great style, and danger seekers and literary wrecks and geniuses.

And I went in search of exquisite and moving Andalusian/Arab music, all to be revealed. 

I stayed at the divine Hotel Nord Pinus Tanger, the most romantic riad in a former pasha’s palace. I’ll tell you more.

It’s owned by the great Anne Igou, who also created the legendary and equally chic Hotel Nord-Pinus in Arles.

Nord Pinus Tanger is utterly private and personal and chic. It’s perched over a cobblestone street, and arched across the old stone walls and ramparts.

My suite, with its antique Chinese lacquered cabinets, brass four-poster bed, brocante fabrics, and too-narrow Isle-sur-le-Sorgue old linen curtains, was up on the top floor, and sheltered within the walls of the ancient walled Casbah.

The restaurant and bar/terrace at Nord Pinus peer above sweeping views of the Straits of Gibraltar. Dramatic. Interior and inward-facing. Old architecture intact. Quirky flea-market finds. Quiet. One-of-a-kind. Check. Must visit.

After a quick exploration of the hotel, I was impatient to see the centuries-old Casbah (fortified castle), the get lost in the historic Medina (intricate market/village) and to experience the evanescent and rare light that so attracted artists like Matisse and Delacroix. 

Jean-Pierre Loubat’s beautifully composed images of Tangier are on display at the Galerie Delacroix in Tangier. Called ‘Tangier the Fugitive’ his collection captures today’s Tangier, in images that look as if they could have been taken a hundred years ago.

I found Loubat himself at the elegant Galerie Delacroix, directed by the French Cultural Institute of Tangier. (Tanger, in French and Tanga, procounced tange-ah, for the locals.) 

Tangier, the great artists’ inspiration and hedonistic paradise had always been intriguing, since I first saw Matisse’s paintings from Tangier and other regions of Morocco.

These vivid works, so atmospheric, are among his best works. Tangier and Morocco inspired his later portraits, décor and explorations and are among my favorite works in his repertoire.

Conversely, there’s the rough-and-tumble history of the Tangier of the Beats, and renegade writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and other thrill-adventurers, and danger seekers like Paul Bowles and Truman Capote and Aaron Copeland and the Rolling Stones, and my artist friend Ira Yeager (you’ve seen my feature on him), as well as Tennessee Williams and William S. Burroughs and, surprisingly Barbara Hutton (whose house in the Medina I saw one evening.) 

I’ll be reporting more about my voyage to Morocco in upcoming blog posts.

I went chasing Paul Bowles, and set forth with my driver, Hassan, looking for Matisse and Delacroix’s hotel (found it in the Petit Socco). My friend Vincent Coppee, who just opened a fantastic restaurant/café, club in the Casbah, told me I just missed Mick Jagger.

In Tangier every moment is a hallucinatory state, offering never-ending mystical and magical encounters at the Fils deu Detroit (sons of the Straits) music club, with costumed Tangier musicians, lute players. Heart-rendingly beautiful music.

I left the club late…and came upon a tribal wedding procession with trumpets and flutes.

I met the Café Baba owners, artists, antique dealers. And at night, I slept at the Nord Pinus Tanger hotel with its bohemian-chic style. 

I was very fortunate to see Madison Cox, the director of the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech, just before I headed up to Tangier. He recommended several extraordinary antique dealers, and Pierre Berge’s book shop, and mentioned that I must visit the GALERIE DELACROIX, directed by the French Cultural Institute, on rue de la Liberte. That’s where I met Jean-Pierre Loubat. 

It was at the elegant Delacroix gallery that I discovered the elegant and haunting black and white images of Tangier by Jean-Pierre Loubat, the French photographer. Jean-Pierre happened to be at the gallery. I was so impressed with the way he had captured the timeless style and texture of Tangier, that I asked him if I could publish a selection on THE STYLE SALONISTE. He was kind enough to agree. 

Paul Bowles, is of course the great chronicler of Morocco, north Africa, and Tangier. In his writings, ‘The Sheltering Sky’, and ‘Their Heads are Green and their Hands are Blue’ and his poetry and novels and photography, he documented his life as an exile in Morocco. Bowles lived in Tangier on and off for five decades and I was shown one of his dwellings, in the Medina of Tangier. (He had several.)

I’d been reading Bowles’s biography, ‘Without Stopping’ in preparation for my recent visit to Tangier.

Now with Jean-Pierre’s Loubat’s graphic Tangier photography in mind, I opened Bowles’s book and found this remarkable description of Tangier, published in 1972.

It perfectly mirrors and matches Loubat’s images—shot in 2012.

Here is Paul Bowles’s first reaction to Tangier:

“If I said than Tangier struck me as a dream city, I should mean that in the strict sense. Its topography was rich in protypical dream scenes: covered streets like corridors with doors opening into rooms on each side, hidden terraces high above the sea, streets consisting only of steps, dark impasses, small squares built on sloping terrain so that they looked like ballet sets designed in false perspective, with alleys leading of in several directions. As well, there were the classical dream equipment of tunnels, ramparts, ruins, dungeons and cliffs. The climate was both violent and languorous.” 

‘To discover Tangier, it’s essential to walk around at all hours of the day, to observe, and especially to see, and wait patiently.” —Jean-Pierre Loubat


Jean Pierre Loubat is a photographer who lives in Nîmes, France.

His work focuses on the issues of space and time. The work carried out in "the footsteps of Marcel Proust" addresses the question of the place apprehended in connection with the time and the Memory , he shows the link between the places and the writer’s books .

In recent work, he chooses to explore Tangier, mythical city, that has attracted many artists, painters, actors and writers, in order to capture the particular genius of this place that inspired so many works of art.


All images here are copyright Jean-Pierre Loubat, Nimes, France.

Images are published here with express permission of the photographer.

photo © ADAGP Jean-Pierre Loubat


Jean-Pierre LOUBAT


Tel : 033 06 72 28 99 44

Mail :


Philip Bewley said...

Love Loubat's elegant photographs, and your text describing place that seems to define exoticism. Loved this!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Such magnificent photographs. I love how black and white captures the drama of a place so much more than colour.

peggy braswell said...

Just can't get enough of your blog! Stunning photos.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Philip, Pamela and Peggy-

Thank you so much for your comments.
I loved the photos when I first stepped into the gallery in Tangier--and I was incredibly fortunate that the photographer was there!
This city is so multi-layered--and I was fortunate to spend time with a friend-of-a-friend who has lived there for some time. I had also done a lot of research into architecture, significant places, antiques, art, bookshops, historic buildings before departing.
I received today the most charming note from the photographer JEAN-PIERRE LOUBAT whose work is highlighted here:

Hello Diane,

Thank you so much for the article on the blog , it's fantastic to see my pictures on your beautiful blog, I'm very very glad of this collaboration, I hope our roads will cross another time perhaps in Tangier or in the south of France, if you come to Nîmes it would be a pleasure to invite you to a dinner at home with my wife.

I have been amused to know that you "came upon a tribal wedding procession with trumpets and flutes". because I also saw them from my window and it was very stunning !

Thank you again, if you want we can keep in touch by mail : i will let you know my next exhibitions and I will be glad to hear about your own projects

Yours sincerely !