Magazine article The Spectator

Tangerine Dreams

Magazine article The Spectator

Tangerine Dreams

Article excerpt

SPIRIT OF TANGEIR by Tessa Codrington Arcadia, £25, pp. 365, ISBN 9781905147847 £20 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

In 1926, Tessa Codrington's maternal grandfather, Jack Sinclair, once British Resident in Zanzibar, decided to buy for his wife a house on the 'New Mountain' in Tangier. One of Muriel Sinclair's many eccentricities was that she had no wish to see her grandchildren. In consequence it was not until the old woman's death that Tessa Codrington, then nine, first visited the house. Subsequently her mother was to give her a smaller house, built by Jack Sinclair, originally an architect, in the spacious grounds of the main one.

An eager amateur photographer from her earliest years, Codrington is now a professionally accomplished one. As one turns the pages of this photograph album, one is repeatedly arrested by some striking image.

Tangier is far from being the most beautiful of Moroccan cities, but images of the precipitous slope of the Old Mountain down to the indigo sea below it, of the narrow, tortuous streets of the Kasbah and of the brilliant sweep of the Atlantic Beach, almost persuade one that it is.

Codrington's artistry is often most evident in the simplest and barest of her photographs -- for example, one strangely eerie image of no more than two wooden chairs on an empty beach, and another of the back of a white-robed Arab woman against the pocked, grey plaster of a high wall. The portraits, whether of the Swiss woman known only as Lily -- who progressed from riding the wall of death in a circus to presiding over the once hugely popular but now defunct Parade Bar -- staring out at the camera with a world-weary cynicism, or of David Herbert, uncrowned queen of Tangier, disguised as a skittish Lady Bracknell, are wonderfully astute revelations of character.

While we turn the pages of her album, the photographer makes her comments. The artlessness and sometimes banality of these contrast oddly with the professionalism of the images. A caption like 'Noor is a respected Moroccan matriarch; she and Boubker entertain queens and kings downwards in a lavish, but strictly Islamic, style', is colour supplement stuff. 'She was much loved by all who knew her' is obituarist's cliché. Information like 'David was all over her like a rash' or 'Grandfather was mad about polo' might well have been dictated into a tape-recorder. …

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