Apparently now an annual tradition, this year’s shorter, later trip took me to two provinces which featured on last year’s extended route – Granada and Jaén.
Having spent the summer in Edinburgh working at the Fringe I had a few weeks off before starting my current part-time job, one of the benefits of which I’ve decided will be that I’m better able to keep up with blog post writing than I was when working full time. If you’re reading this at some point in October 2022 then this has at least started off well, which at this point is really all I can hope for after the first week. (Unfortunately, my ability to avoid unnecessary tangential asides has not improved over the years.)
I had some time off before starting work so I decided to use that time to visit some of my friends in other parts of the country, namely Madrid and Andalucía. While satellite cities in the Comunidad de Madrid do advertise themselves as ‘Capital del Sur’, Madrid is very much not in Andalucía, however, I’m actually going to do a quick overview of the trip to Madrid since it does contain some photographically relevant information.
In my previous post I mentioned buying the 16-55mm zoom lens for working at the Fringe this past summer. It wouldn’t have been my first choice for a lens for my own photography but at the time I had to prioritise the work I was about to do. It wasn’t, however, a lens I was particularly looking forward to carrying around the Albaicín, wider Granada, or anywhere else I might travel. Given that I now had the money to do so, I decided to just go ahead and buy the smaller, lighter lenses (23mm and 35mm f/2) I prefer for wandering around with my camera because – as some friends who previously lived in Madrid said: «es todo ahorro» – it’s all saving, even if what I’m saving isn’t money but the time spent wishing I had something I can in fact afford to buy and enjoy.
Having now got back from the trip and done quite a bit of walking in two rather hilly cities, I’m really pleased I decided to go ahead and buy the smaller lens(es), and now have both a work and ‘play’ kit based around the same camera, which was part of the appeal of going with the Fujifilm system.
I was in Madrid during the week, which meant my friends were working in the mornings, so I decided to use those free mornings to do quite a bit of wandering, and a bit of photography with one of my new purchases. On the first of my free mornings, I found myself on Gran Vía early in the morning, and the warm, diffused light on wide avenues reminded me of a Joel Meyerwitz frame without the steam vents. I don’t normally do much Street Photography but decided to indulge the moment, wandering along Gran Vía, and then over to Barrio Salamanca.
My trip to Madrid concluded on the Thursday and it was back to Valencia by train that night but then on the road the next morning bound for Granada. That wouldn’t be my first stop of the day, though (quite aside from my inability to drive for six hours without needing the toilet) as I had arranged to pick up our current in-house guest from a service station near Elche. Being a service station in Spain it naturally featured those roadside essentials of lottery tickets and knives. Being a photographer I naturally had to photograph this stop at a service station … and also the next one, which would be our only other stop on a speedy trip down to what formerly was in fact the Capital del Sur.
I spent the next morning at a neighbourhood cultural festival near the outskirts of the city, and hanging out with my friend, her friends and people who would become friends. Unfortunately my friend was still getting over a nasty cold, so while she stayed in and rested, I wandered in to the more visited areas of Granada the following morning and spent most of the day there.
On the walk in towards the centre, I found myself reverting to my old habit of photographing ‘things’ – objects, often ones discarded on the floor; walls, and other inanimate objects. While there’s nothing wrong with this, I’m also pretty sure I do this because it’s easy, unchallenging and available in pretty much endless supply. It does also lead to a lot of photographs I ultimately don’t care about, forget that I’ve made or easily confuse or conflate with other similar photographs of little real consequence. Passing through the walls at Puerta de Elvira into the old part of the city, I made a note to myself to try and start including some people in my photographs.
I arrived at la Plaza Nueva at a pretty fortuitous time as a Flamenco group had just set out their tablao to perform. I did photograph this but ultimately not very well, although I’m not too disappointed because I was more interested in taking it in myself than going «full photographer» on some people who hadn’t asked me to be there. I was going for something of a spectator’s eye view but it didn’t work out.
From there I headed up the Paseo de los Tristes a little way before hanging a left to try and zigzag my way uphill to Mirador San Nicolás. Having made it, I decided to use my cover as a tourist to … photograph other tourists with the Alhambra as a nice, dramatic backdrop.
Living in Valencia means I appreciate things like decent tap water when I travel to Madrid, and so it was off to enjoy the best thing about Granada … the free portion of food that you get with a drink (which is, alas, as rare as rocking horse shit in Valencia) at a nearby by. The atmosphere in the bar, and the chat between the waiters, was hilarious so I stayed for a couple more and in about two hours managed to run up a bill to the tune of a whopping 7€.
My friend was feeling a bit better, or had in any case agreed to meet another of her friends who I met on last year’s World Tour of Andalucía, so I started to head down the hill in the general direction of their chosen meeting place. Afterwards I’d planned to go take in the exhibition of someone we had met the previous day at the neighbourhood festival with my nominal travel companion, and current house guest. As luck would have it, as I descended the final stretch of steep cobbled street by balancing along a low wall to allow a car to pass, who should I run into but said travel companion and house guest? The world is a tissue, but in a good way, sometimes.
After the relaxing cup of café con leech, the exhibition, and then some tapas with the author of the exhibition and my nominal travel companion, it was time for the reasonable walk back out to where my friend lives near the edge of the newer part of the city, from whence I would wander back in again the next day, calling first at San Nicolás before deciding to try and shortcut my way up to San Miguel Alto … which I might have done vaguely successfully given that a) I got there and b) when I took the main road down it was radically different to my upward route.
Now Monday, the tapas bar wasn’t quite as lively but I still very much enjoyed being able to have lunch without actually ordering any food. By that time my friend was back home from work so I made my way back there to spend a few more hours in her company before my nominal travel companion completed her own tour of the Alhambra and we would be on our way to the next leg of the tour – Jaén – for the first time.
A full tank had got us all the way to Granada but what was left would only get us half-way to Jaén, which naturally means I’m about to add another picture from a service station. This would be the last picture of the day as by the time we had driven into, through and back out of Jaén to somewhere we could park, and then walk back to our hostel, night would have fallen and we’d both be keen for something to eat because tapas, while very cheap and very cheerful, are not especially filling.
After dinner we wandered some of Jaén so as to see a little more of the city, and also let our food go down. We’d only really have the next morning to explore, and I definitely feel like Jaén is worth a repeat stop on a future World Tour of Andalucía, and we decided to use that morning to head up to the castle – being big fans of the beer bearing its name. We had seen the castle illuminated above the city on our walk the night before and it didn’t look all that far away, but when we asked some locals which way would be best to get there, they exhaled more effusively than expected and we’d later realise why. We started off up a fairly steep incline which we thought would lead us to the castle, but actually ended up leading to a flat road winding its way around the contours of the hill. We couldn’t actually see the castle in any direction but it definitely wasn’t to our right whereas we suspected it was hidden out of view to our left.
Rounding this last bend we could see the castle and understand the reaction from the locals, it was at least a couple of kilometres walk away still, along a road which lead out towards the forest before switching back to our destination. Good exercise and on the way we saw a couple of red squirrels, met an interesting forest fire marshal called Clemente and a keen cyclist named Manuel who stopped to chat with us as the only other people arriving at the castle under their own steam. The views were well worth every step of the way on their own. Andalucía is a huge area and often this means that you suddenly find yourself considerably higher up than you had realised with breathtaking views to a long-distant horizon. In this case there was that to one side as we were suddenly a long way above an endless rolling sea of olive trees, while on the other side were the mountains separating Jaén from Granada with early morning mist still to rise from the nestled valleys.
Long before we were tired of the views, which really were spectacular, it was time to be heading back down towards the car and the road back to Valencia. We took Clemente’s (who, true to his word was not there by the time we descended) advice and made our way down on the forest trail which led us a different way back into Jaén’s hilly, cobbled side streets. We decided to have lunch, and chose our spot wisely as a very nice lunch it was indeed, before heading out on the road (and only needing to stop later, although we would anyway, of course, and naturally I would photograph an HGV) and had a similarly speedy run back to Valencia.
Some people may be wondering (I’m sure almost nobody is but, I think about it a lot … probably too much, definitely too much) why the photographs from Andalucía are in Black & White, especially after (most of) the ones from Madrid are in Colour.
It was the soft, warm light, and how it reminded me of a Meyerowitz frame that led me to make the photographs in Madrid. Colour was an essential part of the decision to photograph there and then, and in that way. I’ve realised, though, that this isn’t often the case with my photography, and that colour is generally more incidental than instrumental, and that Black & White is a better fit for me, most of the time, in how I see and photograph. Having realised that I do want to lean into it more. That being said, I don’t want to dogmatically declare an end to photographing in colour, especially as there will almost certainly be other times when I decide that Colour is the way to go for a particular picture or set of pictures.
Anyway, if you’re still here, thanks for suffering through that latest needless aside, and for reading … or looking at the pictures if you skipped over the words … or perhaps you skipped over the pictures …