OPENHOUSE EXHIBITION #6
“DOWNRIVER” by YOSIGO
INTERVIEW WITH YOSIGO
By Ana Schulz
How did you arrive at the Llobregat?
The project came about as a reaction to another one about tourism in Barcelona. My idea was to do something inside the city and then go out of it. I was photographing the city’s best-known spots, and when I finished I wanted to get out. It was somewhat of a directed reaction; I wanted to get really tired of the city in itself and the most touristy places, and then get out and more calmly photograph the periphery. My original idea was to photograph the edges of the city, starting at the Metro stations at the end of the line. When I took the red line to Bellvitge and got to the Llobregat, I felt a kind of special connection, an intuition, and I said to myself: something could happen here. It’s also true that it reminded me of my village, Hondarribi, because of the market gardening. So it was a random encounter, which is the way stories come to me; I don’t do documentation and research, and then take photos; it’s the other way round, it’s a kind of intuition. That’s how I function. Often it doesn’t work, but then, sometimes, it does.
How did you go about it?
First I was very compulsive about taking photos of the mouth of the river and when I started documenting the work and got interested in everything around it. I started going upriver and the project began to take form. My idea was to start out from pure nature and get to the pollution, which very quickly appears. I started photographing the theme of the industrial colonies, and then I went up to the source before coming back down in search of the parts I needed for the book. I was out taking photos for 10 months, and then three or four preparing the book.
How is the book structured?
The original idea was to make the book chronological—to start in the mountains and end at the mouth, but then that seemed too obvious and linear. What I really wanted to do was to convey a general idea of abandonment, nostalgia, decadence of a rather desolate territory. Of course, the start is the source, nature in its purer form, and the end is beside the airport. In the middle, the whole route is mixed together. I thought it would be more interesting to piece the story together by moving the parts, otherwise it would have been like a sticker album.
Who are the people you portray?
People who live in the colonies. They are people who have a very close, direct relation with the river. For example, the girl in one of the portraits lives beside the river, she spends a lot of time there on her own because there are hardly any young people, just very old people, former employees in the factories. That’s why there’s a very strange atmosphere of old stories. They’re people who are still paying very old rents of one or two euros, but there’s nothing there, which is why there’s such a strange atmosphere. For example, there’s one colony where there is just one person living. Then there are the interests of the private investors who’d like to get in and get their hands on it, but while there’s still even just one tenant, they can’t. And there’s all the controversy about the only mining company there that’s still active. I wanted to hint at all of the things going on along the river without spelling them out.
Your images find beauty in the most desolate places. How do you manage that?
Yes, it’s a kind of nod to Romanticism, that’s the way I work, it just comes out like that. I don’t set out to beautify what is ugly, but I’ve tried other registers and in the end I see that this is my way of taking photographs. Then people often use the word beautiful to describe images that I would say are not precisely beautiful; it’s like I’m tricking you a bit, I make images seem beautiful to you, but if you look a little further they convey something more. At least, that’s what I try to do with photography.
Why do you think abandoned places are so photogenic?
They tell a thousand stories, they show time at a standstill, and they kind of let you travel in time, take a journey to the past…
Would you say they are the equivalent of faded photos of bygone days?
They have a very direct relation with photography. In this case, I was also looking for spaces without human intervention—nothing written on the walls, no graffiti… Here, the greatest merit was to find places without this kind of intervention, to make this journey in time harder, to go back to the space as it was left, without later experiences that made the space run-down but not abandoned.
How did you go about organizing the exhibition for Openhouse?
More than a dissection of the book, it’s a specific adaptation for the wall, specially for the walls of Openhouse. They are two different formats of the same project. The book is clearly divided into two parts, portrait and landscape, and for the exhibition I centred on landscape. Because it’s an apartment rather than a gallery, the layout is not so obvious, so I tried to create small niches for each space. I thought this would be easier to do with landscape, still-lifes and vegetation than with portraits of people. A landscape, a detail or a still-life allows a more ambiguous reading, and people can find a second interpretation more easily.
What is the final photograph in the project?
It’s a wake in the form of a rib caused by a rock in the water. I think it kind of humanizes the water. And the image also fades to black in a kind of homage to the cinema.
It could be the Llobregat monster …
[Laughs] Yes, it could. I did want to personify or humanize the river. I talk about it all the time without showing it, so I wanted to come up with a portrait of the water for the end. I was looking for abstract forms and I found this stone. I was looking for something like that, and I found it.
What have you learned with this project?
Something very important, actually. I suffered from getting involved with a long-term project. My projects tend to be very short, I’ve even completed some in a day, and I’d never spent more than three weeks on a project, so this was a whole new way of going about a photographic project. It’s a form that I like, and I’m a great consumer of this type of photography, but it doesn’t make me happy. It was a whole new experience of photography for me, but I lost the magic or the concern with my surroundings. It was the year that I’ve taken fewest photos. And now I’m happy to be able to photograph my surroundings without having to tell a story. The act of photography in itself is what liberates me, though they don’t have to be good photos. For me, doing the project was liberating, it helped me understand that I want to photograph what I want. A photographic project is finished when you’ve learned something from it, and from this one I learned that I wasn’t comfortable with what I was doing.
This exhibition forms part of the Ciutat Vella route of DOCfield>15 Barcelona Documentary Photography Festival. Other routes and more information at: https://www.docfieldbarcelona.org