Since pioneering Almerían photographer Carlos Pérez Siquier first captured his haunting images of La Chanca in all its poverty and beauty in the 1950s, the area has been somewhat of a mecca for photographers – and this month it has its very own photo competition.
Photography is not one of my major talents, but I’m definitely going to enter, as living in the area I might just get that unique opportunity for a winning shot that all those people traipsing round on a guided tour may not!
The trouble is (apart from the fact that I don’t actually have a camera, only my mobile phone) I am dogged by the weight of all the iconic images snapped by photographers over the years.
The area became famous when Spanish journalist Juan Goytisolo published his book, ‘La Chanca’, in 1962. It exposed a shocking level of poverty, such that it was banned from publication in Spain during Franco’s rule. The images contained in the book, however, served to attract artists and photographers to the area from all over the world.
It’s the contrast between the physical beauty of the area – the brightly coloured houses and the whitewashed walls, the cave-dotted mountains framed by the startling blue of the sky and the sea, the imposing stone-built castle – and the day-to-day poverty, the rubbish on the streets, the roughly built shacks, discarded rubble, kids playing, women emptying their mop buckets – all this combines to give the place a romantic allure.
That and the people- many of the past photos have a kind of ‘dignity amid poverty’ theme, and it is this ‘essence’ of La Chanca that the competition seeks to encourage, saying photos should focus on the “history and culture” of the area, especially its “traditions, popular culture and historical remains”.
So I’m guessing that a goat eating a plastic bag or a mountainside used as a tip is not what they are after.
So far I’ve been out once photo hunting, with my friend Toni, who is a keen photographer with a proper camera.
The day wasn’t a particularly good one – no blue sky or sun – but it was quite atmospheric so we decided to explore the mountain for the wildlife (goats and cats), tumbledown dwellings and views of the castle.
The goats proved impossible to photograph as they were very skittish and ran off at our slightest move, plus they didn’t stand out well against the scenery owing to their natural camouflage.
But as we moved up the hill we found ourselves on a narrow path overlooking the ancient riverbed to the left, and I realised we were very near the Buddhist caves.
Then as we rounded the corner we came across the slightly surreal sight of a bright yellow carcass of an old TV set!
Seconds later we heard a cheery hello, and Andrew, an Englishman staying with the Buddhists, popped out of a nearby cave and invited us in.
He explained that he was an artist (with a fine art degree) and was the creator of the bizarre installation. As the Buddhists don’t have a television (or wifi or any entertainment requiring electricity) he was going to create plasticine models to make scenes inside the tv shell, that would then be a source of conversation and creative thinking during the evenings.
I think I am more of a Netflix girl myself.
That’s not to say I don’t have resources for when there is no electricity – living off grid teaches you that – but musical instruments and books generally do the trick for me. Perhaps I should lend him my spare violin!
I can’t show you a picture of the TV as Toni says she might want to use it for the competition, but here is a picture of her with Andrew, Anutra, the leader of the community, and Daia, a practising nun.
I don’t think our excursion yielded any competition worthy pictures for me, but it was fun, and I will keep on trying to find that perfect shot!
I have until March 20, when all entries have to be submitted – so there’s still time if any of you out there fancy entering too!