/ 14 October 2019

The Week of the Festival: Madrid, Spain

We Call Magic Those Things We Can't Understand

Review of The Earth is Only a Little Dust Under Our Feet by Bego Anton

Are you someone who is rational? Are you guided by impulses or by certainties? When you make decisions, do you rely on objective data, weigh the pros and cons and act accordingly, or does it have more to do with hunches, beliefs?

Photography is a very simple activity. It's about telling something through an image limited by a rectangle. If there is no extra information its simplicity makes it truly complex to convey something. That is why it has to make use of the ability to evoke, to suggest, to stimulate those sensations, memories and feelings that we were already wearing inside of us. Like poetry, it must create invisible relationships, and when they are ‘good photos’, they work.

In the last decade, in Spain there is talk of the ‘photobook phenomenon’. A generation of photographers, due to the hard times they have had to live through, has used this format to express themselves. There was no money, neither institutional nor private, and nobody produced exhibitions, nor published catalogues of them. So they self-published (or worked with small publishers), with moderate costs. With the Internet as an ally, they made their work known internationally. And thus, were born classics, with the freedom that comes with ‘do it yourself’, as the space dream of Cristina de Middel’s Afronauts, the review of the political image of Censorship by Julian Barón, the new ways of seeing popular scenes of Paloma al Aire by Ricardo Cases, the criticism of our lifestyle of Karma by Oscar Monzón, and more.

The movement continued, with more and more authors in a second wave, bringing us books like Daniel Mayrit's You Haven´t Seen Their faces, which put the focus on those powerful people who caused the economic crisis, You, Why are you Black? by Rubén H. Bermúdez, who uncovers our daily racism, or Wannabe, by Elisa G. Miralles, who looks at the social pressure that immobilises women. The list of photobooks to highlight would be quite long. This creative explosion around the photobook is not only Spanish, but here, once again, we have made a virtue out of necessity.

Can you believe in what you can’t see? Can you tell it with pictures? Photography creates invisible connections. And it does it like a smell that reminds you of a whole story, such as the perfume your ex-partner used or the smell of your grandmother’s food.

Bego Antón published a book two years ago, The Earth is Only a Little Dust Under Our Feet. She has a m degree, but she quickly understood the difficulty of telling certain stories. She has told us through photography about the owners of dogs who participate in contests with their pets, or about the situation of women who were accused of being witches in her homeland, the Basque Country.

It is not surprising that, during a stay in Iceland, she was interested in the daily life in which the Icelanders coexist with beings such as elves, unicorns, fairies, beach dwarfs, fountain goblins, mountain spirits, ghosts... the point that, knowing the existence of the Elven School of Iceland, she earned the Diploma in the Study of Elves and Hidden Persons.

About 50% of Icelanders believe in Earth Beings. Even 2% say they can see or communicate with them. Actually, if you think about it a bit, it is a much lower figure than those who believe in God in Spain. We don't see God daily, either. Anton toured the island looking for those with the ability to communicate with all these invisible beings that populate the country and are part of the shape of their culture. ‘There are those who told me that if a politician declared that he does not believe in invisible beings, he would not be elected’, says the photographer.

‘Icelanders would never throw a stone in the air for fear of giving it to an elf they can't see. Nor would they jump from rock to rock because these beings live within them and it would be terribly disrespectful. Since 2013, I have travelled the island looking for people who can see these beings and photographing the places they live’. Without questioning the testimony and with the sensitivity and respect that characterises all his work.

The result, published by the English publisher, Overlapse, has the appearance of an ancient story, with a unicorn greeting us from the cover, in which the landscapes, portraits and atmospheres collected by the Basque photographer are mixed with texts explaining the experiences, images or documents that accredit this fable, such as an aural photograph or a map that indicates where each fantastic species lives. Especially important are the ‘blank’ pages where we may find hidden messages like ‘WE CALL MAGIC THOSE THINGS WE CAN´T UNDERSTAND’.

It seems that Bego Anton knew how to capture all the magic that Iceland transmits because an elf came with her to Spain, as she explains. And after reading this photobook, I don't know whether to believe in elves, but in the power of photography.

By Roberto Villalón. First Roberto wanted to be a journalist (Bachelor of Information in the UPV-EHU) and ended up being a press photographer, in newspapers like El Diario Vasco, El Correo or el QUE!. Then he wanted to be a better photographer and studied (Master of Photography and New Documentary in EFTI) with the best instructors (Eduardo Momeñe, Jessica Dimmok, Jacob Aue Sobol, Cristina G. Rodero...), but ended up as a journalist at El Asombrario. In the end, he created Clavoardiendo, a reference magazine in Spain. Now, sometimes he takes pictures.

Edited by Sergio Fanjul