12 Aug 2016

Towns that were, or the language of stones

I was fortunate to be born and raised in a place of expansive landscapes and vast natural splendor but of few towns, most of them scattered around and isolated from one another in the middle of intricate mountains or sharp ravines, as if they didn't want to talk to each other, as though they valued privacy and confinement above anything else. Things are definitely changing and improving nowadays, with roads being built were only paths used to exist and tunnels being dug where no walkways could be found, with internet reaching astonishing depths and technology permeating the most unreachable places. However, for all the good that progress has brought, not everyone enjoyed its blessing, and there are those that, on the contrary, never had the chance to bloom under this new world, for they were long gone before development arrived at these shores. Of those (the departed, the vanished, the ghosts) I wanna talk here today, a few words and images that won't even begin to outline the shape of places that once were but eventually died, disappeared, faded away.

Morillo de Sampietro, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Silves Alto, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Morcat, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Despite living ten thousand kilometers away, the place where I lived until I came off age will always remain my home, for it was there where I learnt the most important lessons and where I probably suffered the most disheartening blows: the mountains of the central Pyrenean foothills, in Northern Spain, a land of rough beauty and exorbitant depopulation. Spain, still a very rural society until the halfway point of the twentieth century, started rapidly drifting towards the cities, and thousands of farmers and peasants around the country that had struggled to survive for generations in the hardness of the mountains decided to try their luck, looking for a new life in the booming metropolises, leaving everything behind them: their lands, their traditions, their memories, their loyal tools, their centenary homes.

Espierlo I, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Espierlo II, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Casa Juste (Morcat), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Pardina de Ballabriga, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Aperos, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
One of the areas of the whole country most strongly struck by these abandonment was precisely my region, that gradually lost hundreds of neighbors, slowly trimming down the already small hamlets until only a few inhabitants remained, silent and powerless against the tides of time. Entire villages populated by single families, communities reduced to single digits and one same blood that, painfully and unstoppably, would age, and wrinkle, and die with none else around to care for or remember them. Not even the priests stayed, for such impoverished parishes dwindled beyond repair, and only the plain churches and hermitages remained in place  against all odds once everyone else was gone, defying solitude and harsh weather, letting time eat away their former pride.

Iglesia de San Martín I (Espierlo), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Iglesia de San Martín II (Espierlo), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Iglesia de San Andrés (Torrolloala del Obico), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Ermita de San Bartolomé I (Silves Alto), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Ermita de San Bartolomé II (Silves Alto), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Iglesia de Santa María I (Morcat), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Iglesia de Santa María II (Morcat), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Walls began to crack and tremble, wounded to the core; roofs started to hesitate and surrender, suffering from loneliness; windows commenced to scream out loud only to fell into silence shortly after, while wooden beams rotted, chimneys collapsed, floors sunk, and all traces of past happiness were blown away by dust, undergrowth, decay, ruins.

Interior de la iglesia de San Andrés (Torrolloala del Obico), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Interior de la iglesia de Santa María (Morcat), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Interior de la ermita de San Bartolomé (Silves Alto), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Interior de la iglesia de Santa Eulalia (Silves Bajo), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Morcat desde la ventana de la torre, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Torre de la iglesia de Santa María (Morcat), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Ventana de la iglesia de Santa María (Morcat), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Cénit (Morcat), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The sheer, steep hills, that had taken entire generations to tame in tiered terraces, were gradually engulfed  by vegetation; the vegetables stopped growing and the fruit trees withered; cattle was relocated to lower (concrete and sheet) grounds while wild, autochthonous fauna reclaimed their lost dwellings. Decades of effort and hard work merged back with nature and only the small shepherd's huts that lied spread out throughout the hills managed to survive somehow the erosion of oblivion and unemployment.

Borda en San Velián, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Borda en Pardina de Ballabriga, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Borda en Morcat, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Casas de Montalbán, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Borda en Espierlo, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Remnants that, despite their forgotten power, still speak today in low voices of yesteryears and tenacity, stones that dare to stay piled up, one on top of another, against the laws of time and gravity, while shapes loose their definition and become blurred, drifting inexorably towards nature. In this quiet chaos of destruction, however, some new inhabitants can be found, sometimes, populating the grounds that used to belong to their ancestor's masters, roaming freely through the rubble, bringing the circle to a likely end.

Caballos en Silves Bajo I, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Caballos en Silves Bajo II, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Caballos en Silves Bajo III, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm 
Caballos en Silves Bajo IV, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
It's a sad story, a tale of upbringing and departure, of loose ends, dreams and regrets, but not all hope is lost: here and there, across the precipitous cliffs and mountains, some humble signs of survival and even recovery can be spotted: a house that has managed to stay standing despite emptiness, a building that received occasional visits throughout the years and stayed healthy, a ghost village that has regained a new living neighbor, willing to revert the flow of extinction. These are, in my book, sincere reasons to be hopeful. Surely the smoke is still lukewarm upon venturing itself out of the big chimneys, but perhaps the smallest hunch of fire will in turn lead to a new, despite timid, awakening.

Mesón de Fuebla, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Casa Rufas (Silves Alto), GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Casa en Morillo de Sampietro, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Borda en Morillo de Sampietro, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Banderas de fiesta, GX80 + Panasonic Leica 15mm

4 comments:

  1. Hi Gonzalo,
    I have been hiking on the french side of the pyrenees year ago. Your homeland look quite impressive and your thoughtful words describe it and your feelings well. Guess, your pleasure of photography is back! Cheers, Ralph

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    1. Thanks a lot Ralph. And you are right, after hitting a creative wall last year, I'm back in track and enjoying photography once again and more than ever!

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  2. Gonzalo, I am happy to hear that you cracked the wall and I am curios what you will present at next! All the best and happy shooting, CU!

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    Replies
    1. Keep tuned Ralph, because very soon (next month if everything goes according to plan) I will be able to finally share a small project I'm currently developing precisely to fight against the creative wall, and that is working wonders!

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