Txema Salvans, Barcelona 1971
Every night, before going to sleep, I hose down the inside of my brain, so that I sleep like a baby. This method wasn’t prescribed to me by any strange doctor, I invented it myself when I was young as a formula for mental hygiene.
I sincerely believe that happiness is the greatest gift we can give ourselves when faced with our mortal destiny. I choose photography, one of the most intense ways to look at and experience daily life. Taking photographs is also a great way to interact with people and for me, as someone as sociable as he is optimistic, this interaction with living creatures is something as necessary as breathing; but it must be a positive interaction. And here is where it is possible to see the aspects of life that fascinate me most, those which we reserve solely for searching for that fragile goal called happiness: physical and mental spaces of leisure understood as life-affirming realms, far removed from the drudgery of wage slave effort and sacrifice.
I think my way of looking has gone from surprise, irony or celebration to a contented acceptance of the manifestations of others, less and less judging, less and less reciprocal, and more and more mature.
What Remains of the Landscape.
While popular culture beguiles us with the myth of an untamed nature in which to get away from the frustrations of our daily lives, our most habitual experience keeps us tied either to mass tourism or to fleeting escapes to places that are simply what is left of the landscape: vestiges of what was once countryside, now overrun by industry, housing developments and superstores. Appropriated out of necessity and transformed through sheer resilience, these places have ben rescued from their inhospitable dimension to become plausible options in which we can still enjoy a bit of free time in the sunshine, well away from the bustle of the city.
It is precisely these sites of leisure in post-industrial society that interest Txema Salvans, whose shots of them bring out all their surreal banality and sharpen the funny sense of strangeness they engender. He does this by means of two rhetorical devices. First, by maintaining a viewpoint distanced enough to prioritize the scene and its surrounding environment over the individual subjects and their expressions, and secondly, and most importantly, through the mechanism of ellipsis. Most of the pictures were taken on the beach or near the sea, and the sea is therefore what justifies the presence of people swimming, fishing or playing on the sand. And yet the sea is always invisible, because Salvans positions himself between the water and the characters, reversing the direction of their gaze. As a result, what the camera shows us is the degraded prospect that the characters want to turn their backs on. To turn one’s back on something is to ignore it, even to pretend that it does not exist.
Salvans’s work speaks to us, then, of this collective delusion that leads us to fantasize these transient scraps of paradise. Since we have no way of knowing if any other paradise is possible, we content ourselves with these moments of tranquillity and even happiness amidst the concrete and the factories. But it also speaks to us of a paradox in the politics of seeing. The paradox is that we viewers-of-the-photographs are denied the chance to see what the actors-in-the-photographs want to see, while what is rubbed in our eyes instead is what they do not want to see. It is Salvans who manages the instances of that dialectic and in doing so demonstrates, as Nietzsche held, that there are no facts, only interpretations.
The Waiting Game, by Martin Parr.
What is it about Spain, prostitution and photography? One of the best known collections of Spanish post war photographs is Joan Colom’s remarkable study of prostitutes hanging out in Barcelona. This was published as a book in 1964.
Many years later we have Txema Salvan’s set of photographs showing prostitution in urban and rural roadside locations. The women stand or sit on make shift chairs by the roadside, as their main clients are car drivers. The women jump into the cars, and the deed is done.
The difference in style between these two sets of photographs is clear. Colom’s work shows black and white, grainy caught moments from the stream-of-consciousness school, whereas Salvan produces 5/4 inch colour photos of landscapes with an almost hidden, isolated figure within the frame.
Prostitutes do not welcome being photographed, and Salvans employed a most cunning deception to help him get access to his
models. Posing as a surveyor, working with an assistant holding a surveyor’s pole, and wearing the all important hi vis jacket, he slowly encroached on the prostitutes’ territory. The models were almost entirely oblivious to the fact that they were an essential part of the photographs. He could hardly believe this worked so well.
Spain is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe. But the Spanish tourist board will not be knocking on Salvans’s door to license any of these photos as the urban landscape he depicts is not a pretty sight. It is however instantly recognisable to us - the no man’s land between the city and the countryside - is so well documented in these photographs. That strange and ugly mix that is so encroaching and so prolific. So as well as seeing the prostitutes in their remarkable settings we also learn about the contemporary urban landscape. Even without their central players this would be an impressive set of photographs.
It seems to me that Spain is now a fully matured photography territory, the new generation of photographers that is now emerging is a real force to be reckoned with.
This is not Salvans’s fist book. He produced the charming black and white publication ‘Nicetomeetyou’ in 2005. But this latest book for me constitutes a more mature, more rounded set of images. It is very exciting to see this new energy and direction. This wonderful set of photographs from Salvans makes a most positive contribution to a developing trend.
A sea of cement.
This is a journey through the Spanish Mediterranean coast, from Costa Brava to Tarifa, stopping at those places where the real state fever has transformed small fisherman villages into cities beach-party-metropolis.
The main assets of these our cultural hits are beach and sun. Lloret, Salou, Oropesa, Benidorm, Torremolinos, Marbella… are some of these dumps of people were entires families enjoy their leisures in a brief sand lot trapped between the sea and cpncrete.