Marrakech, Morocco

Marrakech, Morocco

Marrakech is world-famous for the many souks in the old city centre. However, these markets have been affected by the growth of tourism. This effect is not nearly as strong in peripheral areas, such as the Bab El-Khemis Market, featuring mostly metal workers.

I meet this blacksmith just as he is taking a tea and cigarette break. Khalid and his colleague make all kinds of steel household objects, such as oil lamps and parts for these lamps.

He explains to me that he deliberately works in a dark room. ‘When you heat iron, it changes colour from red to orange to yellow, and finally to white. The ideal working temperature for us is right between orange and yellow. To be able to see the colours properly, we like to work in a dimly lit room.’

Mahébourg, Mauritius

Mahébourg, Mauritius

This man sells meat at the Mahébourg market. His self-assured, stoic demeanour catches my eye. When I take the photograph I don’t have time to have a chat, so I don’t actually find out anything else about him.

Slat, Bali, Indonesia

Slat, Bali, Indonesia

Komang Widiantara (25) washes cars in the small village of Slat in the middle of Bali. He works together with seven other people. ‘We wash around eight cars by hand each day and also clean the interiors. I enjoy the work – we’re out all day and meet a lot of people.’

A full car wash costs 25,000 rupiahs – the equivalent of 2 euros.

Waterford, Ireland

Waterford, Ireland

(LEFT) John Walsh (65) is the blind owner of ’11 J. & K. Walsh 11’, an off-licence in the centre of Waterford City. The back of the shop is home to a simple pub with the atmosphere of a 19th-century bar. It has a simple bar, a wall covered with bottles, and a couple of barstools with ripped leather seats. There’s an old black-and-white photograph and a broken mirror on the wall. Everything is old and dilapidated, but at the same time breathtakingly beautiful.

Walsh tells me that a disease left him blind 15 years ago. He briefly takes off his glasses: 'See, I’ve got no eyes left.' It’s no wonder the place looks so run down.
Walsh probably still remembers it as it was 15 years ago. He has never heard of the internet or e-mail. And, judging by the ashtrays on the bar, the smoking ban implemented in Ireland four years ago has not yet caught on either.

He took over the pub from his parents and has done everything on his own ever since. ‘I cook for myself and clean the toilets. What choice do I have? No one else is going to do it for me.’ Hearing his story, I feel positive and sad at the same time. There’s such strength in this bashful man, and yet such loneliness as well. 

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 (RIGHT) Michael Griffin (74) is a retired butcher. He was born in this house in the centre of Waterford City. He ran his butcher shop here until 1983, when he decided to call it quits to protest Ireland's entry into the EU a couple of years earlier. ‘We always had beautiful Irish beef, but as soon as we joined the EU the frauds and cheats in Brussels put the kibosh on that trade.’

Michael no longer sells meat, but the door to his shop remains open every day. Neighbours and friends like to stop in for a chat. Michael, who never married and still lives above the shop with his brother, loves to talk about horses more than anything else.

Mahébourg, Mauritius

Mahébourg, Mauritius

Hairdresser Younous Copaul (81) is waiting for the first customer in his hair salon in Mahébourg, Mauritius. Copaul estimates he must have cut the hair of more than 250,000 people since starting his business in 1944. Retirement is not an option, simply because he needs the money. However, he tells me he still enjoys his job.

I took the picture in May 2010, just when huge numbers of people took to the streets of Madrid, Paris and Athens to demonstrate against government plans to raise the retirement age. EU statistics show that the average age of retirement in Greece is 61, while in France it is 59.4.

Suriname

Suriname

(LEFT) Clyde Weeks is a security guard with the Mining Service Centre (MSC) of the Surinamese government. He’s seated in a chair holding a riot gun, in the middle of the jungle near Merian, where a lot of illegal gold prospectors operate. Suriname has been flooded with these gold diggers, who wreck the forests and pollute the rivers with mercury. The government has been trying to control the problem by establishing a special committee (of which the MSC is a member), but it has had little success so far.

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(RIGHT) Carlo ‘Kaatje’ Demidof (51) is an interesting character. He spent 20 years of his life as an illegal alien in the Netherlands. He was hooked on drugs and hanging around on Rotterdam’s Kruiskade. A few years ago, he decided to kick the habit and move back to his native Suriname. He now lives on the grounds of an old plantation where his ancestors once worked as slaves.

The plantation has been transformed into a modern resort. Carlo helps maintain the former slave quarters. He has also set up a small museum that displays all archaeological remains unearthed here in the past few years.

Kaatje tells me he is a happy man once again: ‘This is where I want to live and die.’

Zarkian Zahir, Morocco

Zarkian Zahir, Morocco

Ahmed Zahir (50) is getting ready for a new day at his restaurant in Zarkian Agballu, located in the mountains east of Marrakech. Ahmed has been running his joint for more than 30 years. His most popular dishes are his tagines and couscous.


Naturally, his customers also drink many litres of tea a day.

Wiluna, WA, Australia

Wiluna, WA, Australia

Malcolm Merchant and his wife run a farm in Wiluna. Their original plan was to grow grapes, but that turned out to be unsuccessful. They were unable to keep the vines alive due to the continued drought.

Before embarking on this adventure, Malcolm had collected all the available meteorological data for the past 100 years. He intended to use these as a basis for predicting patterns in rainfall in the Wiluna area. ‘It turned out that the rainfall here was completely unpredictable. Nobody knows when it’s coming, and nobody knows how much will fall. And it’s very local. Sometimes we get nothing at all, while they could be having a 60-minute downpour just 10 kilometres from here.’

To support themselves, Malcolm and his wife now rent out the simple rooms originally intended for grape pickers and other seasonal workers. Their initiative has been successful. People travelling from the extremely isolated Gunbarrel Road, in particular, jump at the chance to sleep in a real bed in an air-conditioned room for the night.

Malcolm is a sensitive man. He talks about literature and expressively recites a poem about the beauty of life in the Outback, with tears in his eyes. ‘This poem so perfectly describes the blistering heat of a summer day in this area. The sultriness and the total stillness, with maybe just a hint of a slight breeze. I love it!’

Australia & Luxembourg

Australia & Luxembourg

(LEFT) Tom Bruce (60) is a sheepshearer and cowboy. He has led a wild and dangerous life. A Vietnam vet, he competed in rodeos for many years back in the United States, where he was also featured as a cowboy in Marlboro ads. He has since settled down in the remote town of Peterborough in South Australia, where he lives on a farm together with his partner, her son, 10 kangaroos and a bunch of cockatoos.

Tom believes the Vietnam War changed the course of his life: ‘If it hadn’t been for that war, I would probably own a farm on Kangaroo Island right now and have a wife and children.’ He still thinks about the war every day: ‘It's a part of me – that’s something that will never go away. Fortunately, after 35 years I don’t have nearly as many nightmares as I used to.’

Tom had a drinking problem for many years, but nowadays he can limit his intake to a couple of beers. He’s had a good life: ‘I have no regrets. There’ve been good times and bad times. I did a lot of dangerous things, but things always worked out for the best in the end.’

(RIGHT) Driver Jean-François Tournemine (44) is waiting for his boss, a Belgian judge at the European Court of Justice in the Kirchberg district. Jean-François has been doing this job for 20 years, and he still enjoys it. ‘Mostly, you need a lot of patience, as waiting around is part of the job. But I have no problem with that at all.’

Tournemine is not from Luxembourg. He lives right across the border in the French town of Thionville. He drives home every night in his own car. ‘I like that, because it means my work is done for the day!’

Calvert Hills Station, NT, Australia

Calvert Hills Station, NT, Australia

US native Alex Chapple (81) is the eccentric owner of the remote Calvert Hills Station, which he runs together with his daughter Kit (55). A recent heart attack hasn’t stopped him from his daily habit of knocking back 12 cans of beer and smoking 3 packs of Winfield cigarettes. ‘But they’re Ultra Lights, you know – the only brand that lets you experience the taste of paper!'

Calvert Hills is a massive cattle station covering more than one million acres and housing 15,000 to 18,000 cows. Although Highway 1 is not too far away, this is still a remote place. You can drive for hours on this gravel road without running into another soul. The nearest petrol station is 200 kilometres away. 

Marrakech, Morocco

Marrakech, Morocco

Wandering through the souks of Marrakech, I discover an ancient gate that emits a hot smoke. Inside I find this man, Mohammed (I forgot his surname). He works as a fireman in a hammam (public bath house). In the basement of the building, he keeps a large fire going with wood shavings that he arranges to have picked up from local woodworkers.

His modest home is located at the top of the firehouse. That’s where I took this portrait.

Virgohamna, Spitsbergen

Virgohamna, Spitsbergen

Dutchman Ton Pieters is showing a group of tourists around Spitsbergen, a Norwegian archipelago midway between the North Cape and the North Pole. It is known as Europe’s last untouched wilderness. Pieters is carrying a gun, to defend himself and the group against the 3,000-odd polar bears that populate the island – as many as the human population.

Their presence means that anyone who ventures off the beaten track outside the small capital city of Longyearbyen must be prepared for an attack at all times. When not employed as a tour guide, Pieters works as a forester for the National Forest Service in the Netherlands. He has been in his job for 40 years.