This activity is made possible through a grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council in cooperation with a private foundation
This project is to document lost places and traditional culture on the Island of La Gomera in the Canary Islands of Spain. The subjects of the photographs will be the abandoned settlements, mountainous landscapes, and Canarian people at traditional festivals - discussing in photos how Franco’s fascist and quasi-feudal state, climate change, and relatively recent modernization has led to both internal and external migration and depopulation, while showcasing the resilience of the residents' unique cultural traits.
The Canary Island are part of Macaronesia, an island archipelago in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. The Canaries are comprised of seven islands that emerge from the sea near North Africa, across from Morocco and The Western Sahara Territory. La Gomera is located about 20 miles from the popular tourist island of Tenerife. Although it is only an hour by ferry, La Gomera couldn’t be a more different place. Sparsely populated and agricultural, it retains a unique culture and natural beauty. The cloud forest atop the island is a UN protected National Park, where a Tertiary period laurel forest that once spread across the Mediterranean and North Africa a million years ago remains. Today, banana plantations are found across the island’s valleys, and goat herds roam the arid hillsides in the middle altitude regions along with a small number of (mostly) German tourists who seek out La Gomera for its famous system of ancient, interwoven trails and pathways.
However, different factors have led to a major change in which the Gomeros live. The Franco regime of the mid-twentieth century was a difficult time for the island's people. Land was given to supporters of the regime, the locals were forced into labor and to relinquish the better half of what they produced on their terraces. Starvation and malnutrition were commonplace, and many survived on not much more than the traditional gofio flour, submitting to the landlords all the best produce, meat, and milk. During this time, a large number of residents fled the island to the Caribbean and Latin America (regions that had been linked to the island since the days of Columbus), and to Tenerife or other Canary islands. It is estimated that almost half of the population left La Gomera in the middle of the last century. Yet, traces of the old culture remain in the unique whistling language of El Silbo, and in the traditional dress and music now showcased at local festivals. In this exhibition, I will include photographs of Gomeros in traditional dress, with traditional instruments, and plan on making their music the soundtrack of my capstone event.
Climate change has also caused massive changes to the island. Many coastal areas exposed to the open Atlantic have been all but abandoned. Before roads connected some of the larger villages in the 1960’s, for centuries, most villages exported their agricultural products and moved people at local ports at the mouths of the valleys, and seaside community spaces were more common. In recent decades, historically intense storm surges have left these unprotected areas mostly abandoned. Many ports and coastal roads were destroyed and seaside structures left empty. Today, it is a constant battle to maintain the infrastructure and buildings closest to the sea. Larger and larger storms and surges continue to hit the island. At the top of the island, in the cloud forest of Garajonay, one third of the ancient forest in the national park was destroyed by fire in the last decade, as uncommon dry conditions take their toll. Photographs of these broken coastal areas and the forest will be another piece of my exhibition.
Finally, modernization has led to an internal exodus from the small unconnected settlements that dotted the island. Roads were first built connecting the larger villages beginning in the 1950's. Electricity, water, sewage, phone, and internet lines were built in the population centers and the people living in the unconnected settlements left these places in favor of the places where life was easier and a modern-ish economy was growing. Before the 1950’s it didn’t matter where one lived on La Gomera, hours of walking or riding mules over the steepest and rockiest of landscapes on ancient trails was how one visited neighboring communities and transported goods. Slowly, over decades traditional settlements and farms such as El Palmar, Morales, Cuevas Blancas, Taguluche, Magro, and others were abandoned. Some wineries, fish processing places, and even an old airport were shuttered. In most of these places, holdouts remained until the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Today many houses still contain possessions left behind. Images captured in and around these settlements will be included in my show. I intend to feature photographs of both the exterior and interiors of these places, as well as the rugged landscapes in which they are found.
I am shooting this series primarily with a Fujifilm X100F camera. Small and compact enough to bring across the rough trails, it is also not too intrusive while capturing images at traditional festivals. For the most part, I have been shooting the series using a Fujifilm Velvia film built-in filter to give the photos a bright, clear, yet distinctly vintage feel. .
The exhibition features 48 framed, original prints of various sizes.