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.