8 a.m. Murcia’s beaches are now on alert for strong gusts of wind, but the sky will remain clear all weekend, while in Tarragona… Txema Salvans listens to the weather forecast while placing his stuff in the van (tripod, camera …) With his hands already on the steering wheel, he traces with marker some secondary route on a Spanish Levante map that always carries on. Or, well, let’s not be so romantic…, even if analog photography is his real thing he should already use GPS …
The Mediterranean coast roads lack the mythical aura with which cinema, literature and American photography have endowed theirs, from Jack Kerouac to Gus van Sant. They are virgin land for Txema, and this absence of previous mystification is basic to be able to gaze on it frankly, with a vision so clear as the midday light with which he photographs.
Photodocument, photo-essay …, every label remains poor to define what attracts his lens. He will not stop in front of a sunset or facing some emblematic building that along his way he can meets, but will slow down his vehicle when passing through urbanizations near hydroelectric stations, vacant lots or truck parkings, because he guess that the human landscape he is searching can be there.
Prostitution on the road, recreational fishing between dams and dumps, holidaymakers able to find their orchard in barren land … Habits and behaviors that remind us of those extremophile species that survive in the most hostile environments thanks to an unusual adaptability .
Watching his photos we wonder if it could be in these suspended times in which he pays special attention (the waiting, the boredom … what being so ordinary becomes extraordinary…) where we can still, perhaps, be free.
Q- Looking as a whole your photographic works we can see that on the background of the same themes (customs and uses of the Spanish middle class, vacation time…), your camera has shifted from the revelry (Welcome Abroad or Nice to meet you ) to the silence of waiting (The waiting game, Perfect Day).
Perhaps because I studied biology my view is anthropological, centered on the person and its context. When I started taking photos, being younger and having a lot of energy, I worked with a camera with universal standard films, which is fast and allows a type of photographic frame focused on gestures, attitudes …
From the beginning I focused on those areas of proximity (I have never been a photographer of long trips), and I decided to take photos of everyday, especially holidays on the Mediterranean coast. Knowing it closely allows me to be more critical, to understand what happens.
The greater distancing that you comment is defined by the camera that I use: I replaced the universal film photo by the medium format (with which I am preparing a book with Mack Books for Paris Photo), and now I use camera plates, which takes more contemplative and high-quality photos. The fact of working with a tripod and not being able to get too close increases the sensation of suspended time.
The technology with which you write your speech forces you to formalize it one way or another. Both in the project The waiting game I, as in The waiting game II, just published, as in III (in which I am already working), and in the series of Perfect Day, I have used the same large format camera, and this gives them graphic and aesthetic unity. But, one way or another, I’m always talking about the same thing.
Q- City outskirts, suburban roads, industrial landscapes… places of transit where, however, there are many who stop to improvise a picnic, to stick their umbrella among the concrete cracks, and even cast the line in canals with a radioactive appearance. You grasp this Dantesque outlook being ironic but not frivolous.
That people could think that I’d make fun of someone has always been of great concern to me, because my pictures are not meant to be a joke. I play with the irony but the tragedy that underlies emerges clearly. I am at a point of balance. In fact, I have photos that I do not dare to edit because they are bordering the mockery without intending it.
My photos don’t speak of specific subjects but of the cultural context that leads a family to spend Sunday morning in the parking of Carrefour del Prat de Llobregat. Spaces that are not intended to be places of leisure end up being it for those usually surrounded by such architectural and social hardness that they acquire a capacity for infinite resilience. I have a picture of a couple kissing next to a petrochemical plant, and you wonder what they do there. Because they live in the village next door, petrochemicals are part of their daily lives.
Q- On some occasion you have expressed admiration for Richard Avedon, whose stark portrayal of the most marginal strata of American West, pure humanity devoid of artifice, could be equated with your willingness to radiograph the sociological margins of your own territory. However, you get the anthropological document indirectly, showing the context more than the individual person.
Rather than admiring specific photographers, I was interested in his project American West, in which the light is absent, there are no hard shadows, no gesture, no framing. When you empty an image of all these photographic decisions what remains is the essence of the character.
In Waiting game I I did something similar. I worked on the premise of using a very hard light, supposedly undesirable to photograph a landscape but that makes the picture something more mundane and bleak. I removed the display (as we call it in biology), which in this case would be the expected behavior of a prostitute (hit her own ass when a car stops, etc.), and I stay in a waiting attitude generating a distance with the character. With this I show the context. Because the problem of prostitution is the context in which it is exercised, the fact that it is subjected to a mafia or is forced to do it at the roadside is the drama involved in this situation.
In addition, distance allows me to preserve the identity of the person. It is a way of working that I have applied in the last works: the context, more than the character.
Q- Although less in the later series, your way of showing the modus vivendi of certain strata in their outrageous use of spare time, the way you resolve the choral portrait, between distant criticism and empathy, we would say that is closer to Martin Parr.
With Martin Parr we respected one another as photographers. He wrote the introductory text of Waiting game. But in his photographs the gesture is very important, and the joke has a lot of relevance. Mine is more a photography of scenarios. My point of view is more distant; in addition the use of flash generates a more exaggerated artificiality. I do not use flash but the light of the Mediterranean to reinforce the harshness of the situation. The aftertaste you have may be similar because we treat contemporary leisure but we get it in very different ways.
An early work, Welcome Aboard, a Caribbean cruise that was commissioned by El País, was very neart to Martin Parr (flash, importance of attitudes …) but later I decided not to take that chance.
If I had to name a photographer to whom I feel very close, would be Joel Sternfeld and his American Prospects.
Q- Despite the decadent aspect of these holiday scenes also suggest a rare authenticity when is engrained in our minds the summer chip of packaged happiness through organized trips, long hours of flight and hyperactivity imposed.
This is a key point in my photography, the absurd. For example, I have worked quite a lot in Marinador. For me it is the paradigm of what you are talking about. A place where you feel compelled to be happy, even with the sense of that they can fine you if you are not, or feeling guilty because you’ve worked all year to be there. It’s like a bubble, they envelop you with cheap stimuli. It is incredibly sad, for me.
I would recommend you a book, a chronicle by David Foster Wallace, a writer who has been important to me: “A supposedly fun thing I’ll never do again”. He was sent to one of these mega-ship cruises to explain his experience on board (something similar to mine for El País), and he talks about the unbearable timetable, the frantic activity …
It is an American model that has also been imported to Spain, the “all inclusive”. But the truth is that I have preferred places to which I had access like any other person: Marinador, Benidorm, Torrevieja …
Q- This leads us to ask ourselves about happiness, freedom, to be owners of our days and accept the absurdity of existence. These Sunday fishermen, these cement garden seekers have something of Sisyphus. Masters in knowing how to “exhaust the realm of the possible” instead of expecting a prosperous tomorrow (or an immortal soul, as Pindar said).
Perfect Day speaks in part of this. I have searched definitions of happiness in different sources, from mathematics to philosophy. When you contrast these definitions with my images you draw the conclusion that the perfect day is something very intimate, proper to each one.
If we based on the possibilities we had to be born, the millions of generations of bugs that have crossed to get you or me …, that is a perfect day. It does not matter if your child had just been born or you are lying in bed, the fact is that you are alive. Death can happen in a thousand ways, but as long as we are alive each day is perfect.
I oppose that with the waiting game II photos that I’m presenting now: people fishing by their own decision in incredible places: in the dam of Flix, with all its pollution, in a dike of Torrevieja…, well, apocalyptic places. But that person has a nihilistic gaze at life, closes on himself and his thoughts, and ignores the visual impacts around him. Happiness is related to this.
The other day I watched on Netflix a documentary about Rocco Siffredi. A girl doing a casting showed some photos wh that showed her back bloodied by lashes. She said that reached orgasm with that. Siffredi asks, how is it possible? She answers: I would pay a million euros for knowing it.
We can believe to know what makes us happy but we live in a constant masturbation trying to achieve it and seldom we reach orgasm. Instead, we sometimes discover ourselves in a situation that in appearance it is nothing special but it makes you feel good, even in the Carrefour parking lot.
Interviewed by Anna Adell
The waiting game II
Hardcover, 88 pages.
Dimensions: 33.5cm X 25cm
Text from David Campany, Gabi Martínez