The waiting game II
Fishing has been a familiar metaphor for photography for a long time now. Hunting, too, describing the street photographer who chases on foot and reacts quickly. ‘Fishing’ is slower and more contemplative. Less physical, more cerebral, perhaps. In the beautiful afterword to his book Uncommon Places, the American photographer Stephen Shore wrote:
The trout streams where I flyfish are cold and clear and rich in the minerals that promote the growth of stream life. As I wade a stream I think wordlessly of where to cast the fly. Sometimes a difference of inches is the difference between catching a fish and not. When the fly I’ve cast is on the water my attention is riveted to it. I’ve found through experience that whenever–or so it seems–my attention wanders or I look away then surely a fish will rise to the fly and I will be too late setting the hook. I watch the fly calmly and attentively so that when the fish strikes–I strike. Then the line tightens, the playing of the fish begins, and time stands still. Fishing, like photography, is an art that calls forth intelligence, concentration, and delicacy.
In Txema Salvans’s latest work fishing as metaphor meets fishing as subject matter. There is no wading into the cold, clear waters of idyllic nature. Salvans and the people he observes so carefully inhabit those unloved semi-industrial landscapes of sun-baked Mediterranean Spain. Nevertheless, the finding of personal time and personal space, against the odds, in the midst of society’s indifference, is a kind of idyllic impulse. A symptom of something irrepressible in the human spirit that searches out in the modern world moments of solace that make it possible to go on. Anywhere and anything will do, as long as it feels yours. For some it is fishing. For some it is photography.
Salvans uses a large format camera on a tripod. The equipment is not so different from a fishing rod. These are activities that cannot be rushed, and the outcome is never certain. There is a lot of waiting. Time stretches out and thus becomes thinkable. For most of our lives we are held hostage by time. Fishing and photography can set you free. For a while, at least. That is why those people who fish and photograph will find any time and any place to do it. But the marginal spaces, the in-between and unexpected spaces, have a particular appeal because they are lucky finds, against the odds. No town planner or land management agency ever considered the lives of those who like to fish or photograph.
Reservoirs, irrigation channels and man-made habours: this is water at its most controlled and humiliated. But even here nature struggles on. The little fish find a way, as do those who try to catch them. And in these photographs, we can see the human species as the cause of our problems and our unlikely source of salvation. We are nature, after all.
Txema Salvans’s previous series was also about life in the gaps and at the edges. It showed lone women, probably prostitutes, sitting or standing in very similar landscapes to the ones you see here. In this book the figures are by water. In the previous book, they are by roads. All are waiting and, in a sense, all are fishing. (It is no coincidence that a slang term for a prostitute is a ‘hooker’).
Photography may be a matter of cold optics and geometry, but it is also invites connection and empathy. Finding the balance is not easy. It is tempting to use the camera merely to objectify and beautify. It is also tempting to use it in a way that pretends to reveal the inner lives of those who are photographed. Salvans resists both. He places himself, and us, on the cusp of beauty and ugliness, knowledge and ignorance, waiting for something else.