Luis Díaz Díaz: Galiza
Written for my blog Vigo Expo
Luis Díaz Díaz (A Coruña, 1978) is a photographer based in the Rías Baixas region of Galicia. Luis completed his photography masters in Madrid and in 2010 founded the Spanish international photography blog 30y3. Living in Madrid helped Luis see his homeland with different eyes: “I saw things I hadn’t seen before, and different things drew my attention,” he says. Since returning to Galicia a few years ago, Luis’s projects explore the land and its history through his own personal lens.
Carnaval is a holiday that marks a period of excess before the austerity of the Lenten season. With its geographic isolation and deep pagan roots, Galicia is known for superstitions and unique traditions. But the way that carnaval is celebrated in the villages of southeastern Galicia has special notoriety because of its preservation of centuries-old rituals passed down from generation to generation, and its costumes made entirely by hand over the course of many months. During Carnaval, the normal rules of daily life are thrown out: participants dance, feast, cross dress, fling dirt filled with ants at each other, and masqueraders like peliqueiros and cigarrones run the streets, whipping spectators who get in their way. Carnaval, or Entroido as it is known in Galicia, opens a window to the past and to the possibility of disorder. In 2007 and 2008 Luis photographed Entroido participants in the Lugo and Ourense provinces of Galicia. Despite the chaotic context of the festivities, his portraits’ centered, focused compositions have an almost anthropological quality. They show subjects standing in fixed poses before backgrounds that are misty and mossy, and thus undeniably Galician. In a sumptuous play of texture and color, Luis details masqueraders’ costumes, props, and surroundings in exhaustive, high resolution. Seen together, the striking disguises create a sort of visual morphology of Entroido as it is celebrated in each town. The layers continue beyond the elaborate costumes; subtle shifts in subjects’ body language and individual details like jewelry and footwear emerge. Backgrounds made of granite blocks and green gardens would make the images hard to date if it weren’t for the plastic beer crates, cars, and cinder blocks in some photos. The contrast between traditional garb and modern elements, between the quotidian and the unreal, reflect the heart of Entroido itself. Luis’s still and studied portraits pause the onslaught long enough for us to look: there’s time to wonder about the people behind the costumes, and to consider the shape of the tradition as a whole.
The region of Galicia is divided into hundreds of villages, some of which contain only 100-200 people. With its variety of geographies, climates, politics, dialects, and customs, things in Galicia may be similar but specialized. Luis studies this phenomenon in his ongoing series Caixas de Música (Music Boxes). Music boxes are structures that were built in public spaces by Galician municipalities in the 1960s and 70s to house outdoor musical performances for local townspeople. Interestingly, the performances most often featured Latin American dance music played by Galician musicians who had returned from their emigrations to the Americas. Many music boxes remain but are no longer in use, as they were outmoded in the 1990s. In Music Boxes, Luis photographs the structures as he finds them in his travels around Galicia. His precisely framed compositions treat the boxes as historical and visual phenomena by capturing their austere architecture and current state of abandonment. As in Entroido, Luis shoots with a meticulous sense of detail: graffiti and chipping paint are carefully recorded. Fog, eucalyptus, and pine trees signal that we are in Galicia. Horizontal lines and frontal orientations convert the photographic field into a series of geometric surfaces and shapes, with the music boxes as fixed center points. Empty space within the music boxes exemplify the rules of perspective: each of their corners go back equally and perfectly into distant space. The effect is that the music box becomes another picture plane within the image. Music Boxes originally sprung from Luis’ memory of playing outside as a kid and taking shelter in nearby music boxes when it would suddenly rain; the series shows the buildings as containers of memory. Music Boxes brings to mind Castelao’s 1950 book As cruces de pedra na Galiza (The Stone Crosses of Galicia), an exhaustive study in photographs and drawings of the granite crosses with Celtic origins that guard many Galician crossroads and villages. Both works document ruin and resurgence throughout the region as a record of the stakes raised by Galician culture itself, whose long history includes persecution and perseverance.
In both Entroido and Music Boxes, Luis explores the countryside as a context of celebration. He and I talked about whether his work in Galicia could be construed as a sort of exoticization of the region. But his projects capture the way that Galicians celebrate on their own terms, something especially poignant in this isolated region plagued with rural poverty and emigration. Luis grew up visiting relatives in the countryside, where hard work is punctuated with festivals celebrating agriculture and the passage of time. As a Galician working in Galicia for many years, Luis’ projects about the region are strongly connected to his own life. His photos examine icons of Galicia to say new things about the place to an outside audience.
The other day I noticed that some delegates of Spanish parliament have dreadlocks and wear hoodies. This is something I’ve never seen in American national politics. Luis told me that 2012 marked the end of an era and a changing of the guard in Spanish politics. He explored this moment in the series Fading Politics, photographs that disarm political motives in layers. In May 2011, Luis photographed campaign posters from Galician small town elections after voting ended. The photographs are cropped in on political posters which have been slowly decayed by weather and time. Looking at a photograph inside of another photograph this closely is strange; the photographic layers are not quite a mirror and not quite a multiplier. Under an additional layer of camera work the original photo seems untrustworthy, as if it’s been called into question by the tool of its own creation. We recognize the postures and set ups as being part of a political scheme, but these candidates’ hairdos, outfits, and smiles are less polished than the national players with their PR machines. The posters are further undermined by discoloration, tears, sagging moisture bubbles, and text that is clipped partially out of the frame. Like Mimmo Rotella, Luis takes posters themselves as his sole material but disrupts their message by simply documenting the passage of time. Politics is about tightly controlled appearances, but who controls these images now? On the one hand, the images are very Galician: they depict local characters, and the region’s humidity and frequent rainfall exert a specific type of corrosion onto the posters. On the other hand, the message is a universal one about how political contests often give way to corruption and incompetence. While campaign promises fade, the power of time and place remain a constant.
Tourism is one of Galicia’s key industries. After the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the most visited place in Galicia is the Rías Baixas region where the Islas Cíes (Cíes Islands) are located. The Cíes have been named the best beach in the world and are the most popular tourist attraction in the area. Visible from nearly every high point or coastline, advertisements for the islands are everywhere; they are at once a tourist hotspot, seafarer’s landmark, and a natural wildlife sanctuary. Luis’ Islas Cíes series is about the pleasure of photographing the beautiful islands. The series is just beginning and will involve multiple phases. In the first part, Luis takes on the role of analog photographer in the field, snapping vistas of the Cíes from the outskirts of central Vigo where he lives. He then develops and prints the black and white photographs in his home darkroom. Visions of paradise also include telephone poles, wires, and new homes along the coast. It is evidence of the rising population density in the Rías Baixas, one of the fastest-growing areas in Galicia.
When talking about his place in Galicia, Luis quotes Ian Alexander Adams: “Being in the right place just isn’t enough for me as a photographer. I want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, the boring time maybe, and still somehow say something.” For Luis, Galicia is the ‘wrong place’ in the sense that it is far from Madrid and Barcelona, Spain’s big cultural centers. But being on the periphery suits Luis; it gives him perspective and motivates him to work harder to say something important about photography and the place he lives.