A Street Photographer Shoots The Real Casablanca (Sans Humphrey Bogart)

Many outsiders only know Morocco’s largest city from a 75-year-old movie. Here’s a glimpse of the real thing.

If you Google “Casablanca,” the first hit that comes up is the classic 1942 film–the one starring Humphrey Bogart as a Casablanca nightclub owner, and Ingrid Bergman as his old flame. The second hit? That would be a Wikipedia page for the place the film is named after, the largest city in Morocco and one of the most economically significant cities in Africa.


Suffice to say that for a large chunk of Westerners, a common image of Casablanca the city is gleaned from the set design of Casablanca the film. It’s a notion that has not escaped the photographer and cinematographer Yassine Alaoui Ismaili, a Casblancan-born street photographer who is also known by his artist name Yoriyas. His latest series, appropriately titled Casablanca Not the Movie, aims to show an authentic view of the city, at street level, where a variety of diverse cultures converge.

The series spans the city, from Yoriyas’s neighborhood in Hay Moulay Rachid, which he characterizes as one of the most dangerous, to the wealthy seaside commune of Ain Diab to some of the more tourist-y areas of the city. His favorite part of town, he says, is his own neighborhood: “It’s full of creative people, especially the kids,” he writes in an email. “Also, it is the source of hip hop culture in Morocco–it is a place with a lot of good break dancers and MCs.”

Through Yoriyas’s lens, Casablanca comes to life in its rich colors and sun-bleached streets, and through intimate and often unusual portraits of its inhabitants. His photos often have a strong perspective: a distant ferris wheel crowns the afro of a woman like a halo, passersby get caught in the propped up mirrors on a marketplace, or a soccer game seen through a player’s open legs.

Shots of the city show a mixture of old and new, tradition and modernity; bone-white modern buildings stand next to intricate ancient architecture, along with piles of rubble and brick on the outskirts. Yoriyas’s first image of the series was outside of the Hassan II Mosque, the largest in Morocco, where a girl in traditional dress stands opposite four girls in modern clothing. In one image, a cartoonish Santa Claus entertains a row of older women sitting in a public square, backed by palm trees.

Yoriyas notes that Casablanca is still one of his favorites. “It gives a very romantic atmosphere of Casablanca, but unfortunately, that’s not exactly the real life picture you get once you’re here. Casablanca is so big and very busy.” It’s something you can’t grasp in full from any film. “Urbanization transforms the environment” of Casablanca, Yoriyas adds. “Orient and occident, tradition and modernity, community and individuality create moments of contrast and fusion.”

About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.