In an effort to boost their already outsized Tourism Industry, La Junta de Andalucía —the body governing over all the Andalusian region in Spain— has decided to sponsor a photography project aimed to capture the essence of Andalusia’s cultural, ethnographic and architectonic riches. For this project, they’ve decided to hire ten renowned photographers to show the best of my home region to the world, in an effort to convince other photographers to come by and enjoy the possibilities the region offers.
And this is where the fun begins, because none of those ten photographers are Andalusian or even Spanish. None of them have grown surrounded by those possibilities, that beauty, that culture. We’ve got Alex Strohl, from France. We have Jason Kummerfeldt, Mitchell Kanashkevich, Nick Carver, and Taylor Pendleton, from the United States. Lizzie Pierce, from Canada. Robin Schimko, from Germany, and Luke Stackpoole, Mike Chudley, and Thomas Heaton from the U.K.
Why Does Their Nationality Matter? Photography is Universal!
Not so long ago, we were praising —with reason to do so— the World Press Photo Awards and their regional model. As you may recall, this model was aimed to improve the visibility and prestige of less-represented areas of the world.
This popularity contest is the exact opposite, and a complete unfairness to the region it aims to represent. I’ve seen many, many good photographers —among them, Iris Muñoz or myself— emigrate from Andalusia because the chances of earning a living through photography were incredibly scant.
Why do I call it popularity contest? I’ll let you judge through this direct translation from the official announcement.
This action is intended to increase the region’s visibility and reach, for which we have selected artists for their technical skill and the attractiveness of their online channels so we can get to a diverse and connected audience.
The short note goes on to explain how, through their accumulated four million Instagram followers, this will make Andalusia even more attractive to tourists.
In a way, I understand the decision. International photographers means international followers interested in visiting the area, which saves money on advertising; why go to the effort of helping a local achieve recognition when we can choose the easier path? Note that this is a rhetorical question.
A Different Vision
As I’ve experienced time and again, one of the things outsiders bring is freshness. They aren’t used to their surroundings; they didn’t grow up in the local culture, and that gives them a different way to see the region. Most of the time, there’s no one like an outsider to find beauty and magic in what locals are accustomed to.
At the same time, there’s no one like a local photographer, deeply enmeshed in culture and traditions, to bring out the true essence of what’s around them.
So, where’s the tipping point? Who should get a chance to represent the region?
As someone who travels everywhere with her camera, I can’t hold any kind of grudge towards international photographers. It would be hypocritical of me. Everyone should be allowed to travel and picture reality as seen through their eyes, ideas and preconceptions.
In fact, there’s a long list of places I would like to visit with my camera in hand, both in Europe and outside of it.
What I —and a whole community of photographers born or living in Andalusia— disagree with, is the fact that these photographers are being brought here on a giant amount of taxpayer money that could be used to revitalize the local talent pool.
As photographer Oscar Romero says, “While neither the quality of their work or the fact that this is not a personal struggle are debatable, I don’t think this is a shame because they didn’t hire me as a photographer. It’s a shame because there are a number of amazing professionals in Andalusia who could’ve done a job as good as them”.
In the end, it’s all about encouraging and supporting the industry within your own community, the talent struggling to be known and heard of. And we can’t do that by spending millions on Instagram Influencers.
Picture by Lara Carretero, the author.