Photography has been Darren’s life from a very young age, and he has built his career and life around his passion. After his own documentary about a local Moroccan music scene brought to the country for the first time, he eventually settled in the Moroccan countryside just outside the laid-back sea town of Essaouira.

We caught up with Darren to find out why he swapped the world of TV and film for teaching, opening up his home to provide creative learning holidays for photographers & adventurers alike.

*Please note: Darren was too shy to provide us with a photo of himself so we hope you enjoy his images ;-)

What did you do before running photography holidays?

I worked in UK colleges teaching photography, video and media studies for several years, and also had a 10-year spell in video production.

I began by making my own self-funded documentaries (one of which was filmed in Essaouira) and went on to producing, directing and filming various TV programmes for Channel 4, the BBC and ITV.

Camerawork has been at the heart of what I’ve been interested in since my teens, and I really enjoy teaching.

What brought you to Morocco?

Local man in Morocco wearing traditional white clothesI came to Essaouira several times during the 1990s whilst making a short film for my MA.

Afterwards, I returned to do a self-funded documentary on the life of an Englishwoman’s move to Essaouira and her involvement in the local Gnawa music culmination.

She set up the first festival of Gnawa in 1998 and I had the opportunity to capture it. I returned here on holiday in 2010 and decided to stay on after I met my wife.

Do you have any qualifications related to photography?

I have a BA Honours in Photography and an MA in Film Production. I got my start in photography at the age of 13, learning to process and print at home.

Luckily my school also had an enthusiastic teacher who started the first O Level Photography Course in our area, and from there I progressed through the system.

How long have you been running photography holidays?

My first photography courses here in Essaouira started in October 2010. Since then we’ve had over 300 guests and I think everyone has come to understand a variety of different learning styles at their own pace of acquiring knowledge – myself included!

Often the trick is to find the key to unlock understanding for each person, as each person learns differently. The progression students make can be the most rewarding aspect as a host.

How did you come to find the base for your photography and cooking courses?

For the cooking classes, which take place in our countryside home, the kitchen was designed by myself with classes in mind. It’s large with a central island cooking area. In fact, I designed the entire house, and both my wife and I project managed with a local builder.

Part of the home design included having a passive solar element to keep the house warm in winter and cooler in summer, without the usual devices. It works fairly well. We also have a solar panel for our hot water and harness rainfall which helps with our garden and pool. The pool itself is an unusual shape, a little bit like a Christmas tree!

The area we live in is unique as we are next to the largest expanse of forest in the midwestern region of Morocco. It’s quiet in our garden and we have various migratory birds coming to drink from the pool.

We also produce our own olive oil as we have about 12 mature trees and 50 growers. The oil is pressed in our village using traditional grindstone methods with a dromedary which turns the wheel.

Moroccan mountains with farmers and sheep in distance

Please tell us a bit of background about the location & local life.

In our village there are only perhaps 12-15 homes, so the local life is sparse.

We are the only outsiders, as my wife is from the medina of Essaouira and typically village life is very different to town life. Most people in the village are geared towards the seasons, harvesting and looking after their animals, and also taking trades jobs.

Essaouira, where the photography guests will stay, has more social and cultural activity with a thriving arts scene and strong musical heritage. There’s always a relaxed buzz about the place.

Locals are relaxed and friendly, and it is an easy and safe town to walk around.

Local woman from Morocco wearing red headscarfWhat makes your holiday a unique experience?

For only being a 3-hour flight from the UK, you can get a vastly different cultural experience from home, for a reasonable price and short travel time.

There are few suppliers in the world offering all-round photography, cooking, and culture in a developing nation.

Also, I cover the basics of photography so that every guest has the same start, regardless of level, and there is more than enough time during the week for everyone to have individual tutelage.

You can find out more about Darren’s photography course, photography & cooking course and photography & culture holiday on the GoLearnTo website.