Visual Ethnography Competition 2020 Photography Winner: Murex Lure by Carolyn West


Murex Lure


Murex Lure, 2019. This photo essay documents the extent of the use of “Murex Blue” within the town of Essaouira, Morocco, and the roots of the colour within the fishing industry.


Artist’s Notes:

Four years ago, the first made-for-Instagram museum opened its doors in New York City, The Museum of Ice Cream. Bathed in millennial pink walls and decorated with feed-friendly accessories, this museum wasn’t so much an art exhibit, but more of a carefully curated series of Instagram worthy backgrounds. Void of all deeper meaning that one might usually encounter when visiting a museum.

Instagram has long been synonymous with colour. Bright coloured walls, colour corrected instant filters, fields of sunflowers. Take five seconds now to scroll through your own Instagram feed and I’m sure you’ll find something that features a pop of colour.

It’s no surprise then, that a destination like Morocco is fairly high on the digitally savvy travel itinerary. Perfect symmetry, brightly coloured tiles, and whole cities painted in sky-blue make for the perfect backdrop for your next social media snap.

In 2019 I visited the seaside port of Essaouira. Three hours drive from bustling Marrakesh, with all of the typical millennial Moroccan interests: surf, souks, and social media-friendly backgrounds.

Here you will find a very modest and particular shade of blue permeating the walls of the city from the window shutters to the tiny blue boats fishermen take out into the Atlantic every morning before sunrise.

Some travellers may overlook this unique hue as a simple aesthetic choice — the perfect addition to their feed — a quick walk to the local fish market will provide you with a deeper insight into Essaouira’s Murex history.

Murex blue isn’t just an aesthetic choice for the residents of Essaouira, but a visual manifestation of the area’s identity, history and culture. Locally harvested hexaplex trunculus murex molluscs produce the range of colours found only in this modern-day seaport. Generations of men have sailed out of the half-moon bay in search of fish and murex for three millennia, while millennials snap selfies in front of the port, oblivious to this fascinating history lurking behind a quick conversation with a fisherman.

This isn’t to criticise millennials — I mean, I am one myself — and of course, pseudo-ethnographic research might not be on the travel agenda for every tourist, but a simple interaction can change the way you not only see but interact with the world around you.

While these images lack qualities that would make them, ‘algorithmically friendly’, they are the result of a significant cultural detail that otherwise could have gone unnoticed had I not been engaged with the local fishing community.