Posted by: simonsteachingblog | October 13, 2009

Photographing the Bad Lands

Corinne Silva’s recent series of photographs ‘Badlands’ taken in Almeria in South East Spain are good examples of how photographers interested in the picturing of topographies and architectural structures have attempted to represent the contested nature of contemporary human environments.

Corinne Silva, 'Temporary settlement number 2' 2009

Corinne Silva, 'Temporary settlement number 2' 2009

 This series includes photographs that when considered together present us with divisions between the wealthy and the poor, and between the experiences of people who move around the world under very different conditions and for very different reasons. On the one hand, there are what Silva calls ‘Temporary Settlements’: the ramshackle dwellings constructed by migrant workers from North Africa (who presumably labour in the poly-tunnels pictured elsewhere in the series). On the other, there are more substantial and permanent architectural structures: expensive residential buildings Silva terms ‘Castles’ and buildings related to the tourist industry in the region. Other photographs of the ‘Desert Springs golf resort’ picture ‘demarcation lines’ that perhaps function as metaphors for the dividing line between rich and poor, and between what Zygmunt Bauman has called ‘tourists and vagabonds’ (Zygmunt Bauman, Globalisation: The Human Consequences, Polity Press, 1998)). 

Corinne Silva, 'Demarcation line number 3, Desert Springs golf resort', 2009

Corinne Silva, 'Demarcation line number 3, Desert Springs golf resort' 2009

 One photograph in the series depicts a tiered architectural development on a hillside (the ‘La Envia gated golf community’) that resembles Jewish Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The buildings in Almeria are not quite the fortress dwellings that constitute what Rafi Segal and Eyal Weizman dub the ‘civilian occupation’ (Rafi Segal and Eyal Weizman, eds., A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture, Verso, 2003), yet in comparison to the makeshift shacks made by the migrant labourers from scavenged materials, this architecture is imposing and exclusive. Silva references architect Teddy Cruz’s notion of a ‘post 9-11 political equator’ between the haves and have-nots that she suggests links border zones and dividing lines that exist between Southern Spain and North Africa, the USA and Mexico, and Israel and Palestine. Thus my interpretation of the ‘La Envia’ photograph as being suggestive of Israeli settlements seems appropriate to her understanding of the series.

Corinne Silva, ‘La Envia gated golf community’ 2009

Corinne Silva, ‘La Envia gated golf community’ 2009

Having stated this, we should be careful about getting carried away with such comparisons. South East Spain is not the West Bank. Both areas are structured politically and spatially in terms of distinctions between formal citizens and those formally defined as non-citizens. Nevertheless the nature of non-citizenship in these locations is different. Palestinians living in the West Bank are not migrants. Rather they are people living on their own land under military occupation. Moreover, in the West Bank there is no singular border zone or dividing line between Palestinians and Israelis. Palestinians and Israeli settlers live in very close proximity, mostly in separate enclaves under rather different conditions. This means that there are multiple dividing lines and border zones that separate settlers who live under Israeli civil law and Palestinians who live under military rule. How might this spatial complexity be pictured through this kind of topographical and architectural photography?

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