It has been, quite literally, ‘some’ time since my last post … though that is true of every post, in this case it has been almost a year. Why is this? Why now? Why anything?
Well, there are several reasons as to why. Firstly, my two most recent posts were published shortly before I went from working part-time to working full-time. I had been able to maintain some of the momentum from 2020’s lockdown period of working from home while working part-time, but going full-time (in my day job, not with Photography) meant a reduction in my free time, and also in the time available to think about things which might later turn into blog posts.
This leads to the other main factor limiting my blog post output, a shortage of ideas for things to write about. I haven’t felt, and still don’t feel, that I really have anything especially worth sharing with people. I’ve made photographs, especially during the summer when I was either almost fully or fully relieved of the constraints of a work schedule, but I haven’t felt like I had much to add.
One final factor, which may seem trivial but has nonetheless had quite the impact on my output, was that in around March I accepted the film processing lab’s offer to include the black borders of the frame in their scans of my negatives. I always used to print with a negative border when working in the darkroom, and if it was good enough for Cartier-Bresson then, well … it turns out that while I may have made darkroom prints with negative borders, leaving them on to share work digitally online felt a bit gimmicky (not least because of all the gimmicky faux film borders around which make even the real ones seem fake) and also added an element of inconsistency to things if my work suddenly began to sport film borders, film borders which might later disappear. In any event, I only just got round to going through about eight months of work, cropping out the borders, and editing the scans. Let mine be a cautionary tale – film borders may look cute, but they grow … I dye grass.
Putting aside my nonsensical need to write something of significance just for long enough to blurt out a blog post, I’ve decided to just share some pictures I enjoyed making, and was happy with when the results came back, which are from our 2021 World Tour of Andalucía.
A dear friend had invited us down to the coast of Granada to try sailing under her expert instruction. I had decided not to take on my erstwhile summer job teaching intensive courses to University students because I quite fancied having a summer off for the first time in a decade, and for the first time in a decade I could actually afford to do this. My partner also had annual leave from work to take that month so we made a week of it. In the first of … at least two certified ‘Big Brain Moments’ we elected to make Córdoba our first stop – consistently the hottest place in the country at the hottest time of year, what could possibly go wrong?
The trip down took us inland (naturally, we live on the coast) through the provinces of Cuenca and Ciudad Real, where we stopped for a rest, and down into Andalucía and Jaén where we stopped for lunch. I first started with Photography on a road trip so I do enjoy a good (or even a mediocre as the case may be) road trip photograph but I’ll limit myself to one from each stop.
After eating far too much in a hunter’s grill (the perils of random roadside stoppages) we eventually made it to Córdoba and could open the car windows to let in some of that oven-like heat so as to steadily acclimatise from the altogether cooler air-conditioned car. Not normally ones for luxury, a pool had been an almost essential requirement for our accomodation in Córdoba due to the time of year, and that was pretty much our first stop until we deemed ourselves refreshed enough, and the air temperature reasonable enough to go for a wander.
The next day would be when we really proved our Big Brain credentials by heading further inland to an area known as The Frying Pan of Spain in early August to explore a family origin story – not my family, obviously, well, sort-of my family now. (Yoink. My family now.) Our (all too literally) hot destination was the former mining town of Peñarroya-Pueblonuevo close to the border with Extremadura.
The town (formerly two hence the hyphenated name) expanded greatly during the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the extraction of coal and various metals by a combination of local and French mining companies and engineers. These industries successively closed following the Spanish Civil War and were in terminal decline by the middle of the 20th century, causing an exodus of around two thirds of the town’s population to other industrial areas such as Valencia and Barcelona.
After a brief trip out to the town’s museum (temporarily housed in an industrial estate) and equipped with a complimentary map, and as much water as we could buy from the bus station café (having already drunk our bottles dry) we decided that about 1pm was an ideal time to go and explore the remnants of the old power station and metal works. Naturally, we were wearing highly suitable footwear … for the heat, if not for trudging around the dusty, coal-fired industrial ruins. Have I mentioned our Big Brains?
I don’t like to overdo it on abandoned architecture as a photographic subject but when in Rome (or in this case, when in an abandoned iron works) … and there was also the family connection to the area, and indeed this particular installation. It was also quite a compelling subject and I really enjoyed making the pictures, and am quite happy with how many of them came out … almost as happy as I was to get back to town and order another litre and a half of water.
After sampling some local delicacies (mostly pork, it must be said) we were ready for the next installment of the origin story, set in the nearby village of El Hoyo which would have been about 15-20 minutes away on a mid-century bicycle based on my rough estimation. The village was small but, to my eyes charming enough – although I might think differently if I lived there during a major economic depression rather than visiting for a day as a gawping tourist. Given that we were visiting at about 4:30 on an August afternoon, it also appeared deserted with everyone equipped with two brain cells to rub together safely indoors with the blinds down. Still, I was happy enough with my life choices to all but finish up the remaining film I had brought with me for the day – and had actually deemed optimistic in amount that morning.
The last of the above photographs actually shows us back at the fringes of Peñarroya-Pueblonuevo, and its also largely deserted railway district with the tracks long since having fallen into disuse. From there we were headed back to Córdoba but made one final stop in Bélmez (from which Peñarroya and later Pueblonuevo … later Peñarroya-Pueblonuevo … had become independent during its industrial expansion) and its cemetry where I made this picture of a (currently occupied) grave for sale.
Back in Córdoba it was time to wash the soot off our blackened feet and wait for the sun to drop a little more by the pool before another evening exploring the city in search of some fried aubergine worthy of the name. The following morning we did a little more wandering around, this time before the sun got too high, before it was time to head back towards the coast and our rendezvous with a sail boat (and a friend who knows how to sail one) on the coast of Granada.
The drive down took us through Málaga province (I was keeping a tally on the number of provincial borders we crossed during the trip) and past the historic city of Granada before heading through one last mountain range to the coastal town of Castell de Ferro (with the word Castell, much to our initial confusion, being pronounced differently to how it is in this part of the world) along from Motril towards Almería.
Almería is unfortunately perhaps most famous for its Plastic Sea of greenhouses which do ultimately provide a good portion of Europe with tomatoes throughout the year. The coast of Granada sees the mountains run practically into the sea (with the sand at one of the beaches we visited that week being a deep volcanic black) rather than having a strip of flat land like in Almería, Murcia and Valencia but still we were surprised to see greenhouses nestled into any flat parcels of land available, particularly alongside the (dry at the time of my visit) riverbeds running back up into the mountains. When we arrived in Castell we joined my friend at the beach for a game of volleyball that stretched on into darkness, however, the next morning I was keen to head off an explore the greenhouses.
Having gone as far as I felt safe in one direction (the road started to feature more blind bends and I like to be able to see a bit ahead of myself when exploring the Spanish countryside because one can encounter some guard dogs that take their role quite seriously … as I did on the way back past the cooperative but fortunately a passing cat took the heat off me and I could GTFO of there) and then up a larger road into the hills, I again finished up the film provisions I had with me as the heat of the day started to set in. Taking note of my fascination with them, my friend promised me a tour of her dad’s very own greenhouse – a tour which took place a day or two’s worth of lazing by the sea later and during which he explained some of the problems for producers supplying (and meeting demand for) tomatoes and peppers, the two cash crops in the area … although depending on when your harvest ripens it might be considerably more or considerably less cash, although the sums in question never seem all that high when compared to what the consumer pays in the supermarket after two or three markups. In any case, we’re talking cents per kilo.
It was here that I used up the last of my Colour film and was forced (not really) to load the roll of Black & White I had brought on a «more use here than it is at home» basis. It was with this that I made pictures when we finally took to the water to sail. Those pictures don’t really fit in with the rest of the ones I’ve shared above, however, I mentioned it several times so I now feel trapped by the «pictures or it didn’t happen» rule so here’s one to show that it did.
There are, however, no pictures of our overnight stay in Almería because I used up all the film on the pictures of our sailing adventure that I’m not sharing. After that it was back through Murcia, Alicante and Albacete to take our Provincometer up to 11. There we are, our 2021 World Tour of Andalucía and my first post in almost a year. Thanks, as always, to whoever is still reading this at this point for doing so.