Human beings are resilient. If we weren’t, would we still be around? As part of that resilience, we learn to adapt, even in the most trying circumstances. Certainly, we are seeing that now amid all of the horrific things that have descended on us. With the coronavirus pandemic, for example, we have learned to accept things like keeping our distance from one another, wearing masks and working from home. We’ve always had to adapt as our circumstances change. This is one of the themes in Spanish photographer Txema Salvans’s new book, “Perfect Day” (Mack, 2020).
The images are surreal tableaux of people on holiday. One of the things that makes them so is simply the environment they are in. Salvans’s deliberate, formal framing of the scenes only magnifies that surreality. These holiday-goers are determined to enjoy themselves in a post-industrial landscape. Salvans’s photos show people pursuing leisure activities in pretty unlikely places, but they’re just adapting — finding spots to sunbathe, picnic, nap and even swim while buildings, cranes and cooling towers loom over them.
The people in a lot of the photos in “Perfect Day” are positioning themselves in such a way that they can ignore the ugliness of the landscape surrounding them. In fact, most of the photos were taken near the sea, and the people in them are gazing out on its serenity. Salvans has turned the table on them for us. As they are seeking solace, we are looking directly at what they are trying to avoid. The photos are both a clever look at how people adapt and a reminder of what is forcing them to do so. Banality is captivating through Salvans’s lens.
Joan Fontcuberta, a writer and conceptual artist whose work examines the truthfulness of photography, has a more elegant way of describing Salvans’s work than I can muster:
“Salvans’s work speaks to us … 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 tranquility and even happiness amid 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.”
“Perfect Day” is published by Mack. You can buy the book here.
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