• Todd Clare

Lanzarote to the Sahara — Searching For Frames in North Africa With Todd Clare

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Todd Clare’s photo essay takes you from the surreal formations on Lanzarote, a volcanic island to the abstract beauty of the Saharan desert in Morocco. A journal tracing the land from the mind of an ever-curious photographer.

Photography by Todd Clare

Texts by Todd Clare

Lanzarote is an island that sits just off the coast of northwest Africa—a stone’s throw away from Morocco. A few hundred years back it was rattled by a series of volcanoes, leaving the island covered in obscure, molten rock formations. I’d been researching destinations to shoot abstract landscapes and my friend suggested this place. To be honest, I’d heard a little about the Canary Islands but nothing really of Lanzarote. The images he showed me of the island blew my mind and I immediately booked flights. Morocco, on the other hand, was already a no brainer.

Todd Clare

“I was looking all over the place like a madman. I wanted to turn down every dirt road at the same time—every vista I stumbled across piqued my attention.”

When I arrived, I was pretty overwhelmed by what I saw—the island was an artwork within itself. Driving around in a rental car alone wasn’t ideal because I had my explorer face on trying to seek out locations. I was looking all over the place like a madman. I wanted to turn down every dirt road at the same time—every vista I stumbled across piqued my attention.

For days I drove around exploring, I had no plan, I just wanted to shoot and capture the enchanting scenery. There was, however, one particular day that stuck with me. I was trying to find the entrance to Caldera Blanca—an ancient volcano in the national park south of the island—and in my searching I landed upon on a particularly dodgy road. I felt like Matt Damon in The Martian driving around in a space buggy, but I was commandeering a little 2-door Toyota Yaris. I realised it was a bad idea and started walking.

Todd Clare
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Todd ClareTodd Clare
Todd Clare

“The clouds dappled light over the burnt surface. It made me think how fragile the earth is, so much of the island had been blown apart, and with time nature re-found its way and the land healed.”

I walked for a good hour along the road in the sweltering heat and eventually found a track that looked like it led off the road—I got lucky and it linked up to the summit walk. As I reached the peak I looked down into the volcano, I could see hard layers of ancient earth-crust oozing from the crater. The clouds dappled light over the burnt surface. It made me think how fragile the earth is, so much of the island had been blown apart, and with time nature re-found its way and the land healed. I sat there and took it all in.

From the top, I could vaguely see my car and how far out of the way I had walked to get to where I was. To save myself the long trek back, I decided to take a short cut. I can clearly remember the sound of the dried-up molten rock crunching beneath my feet as it broke apart. The rocks were sharp, and I was worried that my foot might fall through the loose surface. I cautiously trekked through and eventually made it to the road, coming out unscathed.

Brimming with amazement, I set off towards Morocco…

Todd Clare

“The sun shot holes through the mountains and faces pressed against the windows, trying to steal a glimpse of the red, dusty peaks.”

The road from Marrakech that crosses the Atlas Mountains is the gateway to the Sahara. Long winding roads etch lines through the valleys and the temperature plummets as you climb. Our driver had done this a bunch of times before and moved with adept speed. Cars and buses had come unstuck on this wild road before—I was shitting myself. The sun shot holes through the mountains and faces pressed against the windows, trying to steal a glimpse of the red, dusty peaks.

The landscape eventually opened up into vast, arid plains. Nomads walked along the sides of the roads herding goats, their faces hardened by the heat and sun. Some of the locals rode donkeys or travelled by foot, others sat by the side of the road gazing at passing traffic. Oasis villages emerged out of the dust, many built with hay, water and cow manure—this kept their homes cool in the unforgiving heat.

Todd Clare
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Todd Clare
Todd ClareTodd Clare
Todd Clare

After a few solid days of driving, we arrived in the desert where we would camp the night. We rode camels through the dunes as the sun set over the mountains. The afternoon shadows accentuated the vast, clean lines of the dunes. Like a slow-moving ocean of sand, the wind had sculptured them to perfection. I thought about art school. In abstract art, marks and gestures are explored over and over. From my experience, the ones that work happen when you’re in flow, like water, in the moment. Like the lines of the dunes. Mother nature doesn’t think twice about mark marking.

We’d left the city lights far behind and stars began to crack through the sky decorating the blanket of darkness unfurling over the desert. We finished the day eating tagine, listening to the locals drumming traditional Moroccan hymns.

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Todd Clare

Words and photographs by Northern Rivers based landscape wanderer Todd Clare.