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With his Fading Away series, Joan Alvado has produced surreal images that place the viewer in scenarios where nature plays the main role, and human beings are relegated to the sidelines. To discover abandoned, endless landscapes, it was unnecessary for Alvado to travel very far, because his country, Spain, is home to one of the most underpopulated areas in Europe – the Serranía Celtibérica. We spoke with the photographer about global phenomena, irreparable developments, and the value of reality in his photography.

LFI: What was the initial idea behind your project?

Joan Alvado: At the beginning, there was just a big blank empty page. When I learnt about the story of extreme depopulation going on in the Serranía Celtibérica, I felt very attracted to it; I sensed this would be a good series in visual terms.

I had this really vast area of 63.000 square kilometers in front of me. I was aware that I needed to refine a concept for the series. One thing I knew for sure, I wanted to avoid the standard “nostalgic” approach, that you might expect for this topic: old people, a way of life that is disappearing, abandoned villages… When I started travelling and photographing throughout this region I didn’t have the final concept yet; but I knew I wanted to create something that might look different, renewing, fresh.  
How did it get so deserted in this area of Spain? Do you think places like this might emerge everywhere in the world?

Yes, this is not a narrative that is exclusively related to these Spanish provinces. I try to make the images work at a more generic level, since I think this is a world-wide trend, especially in industrialized countries. The idea I want to raise in my photographic essay is that this trend is never going to be reverted. Agriculture as a way of life is dying in the so-called “advanced” societies. If there is no alternative economic motor to replace it, there will never be a re-population of rural areas.

So, by having these reflections myself, I started to arrive at the concept I was looking for: what might the future of all these rural territories look like if the population loss trend continues? How might these areas look like in 30, 40, 50 years?

In your images, the surroundings look very desolate and empty, even post-apocalyptic – yet still somehow beautiful, calm and quiet. Is there any specific emotion you want to create?

I wanted to create a fantastical mood, detaching the images a little bit from reality. To create a reflection in terms of the future, I thought it would be better if the images were not so grounded, not so attached to realities we can easily identify. So I started to photograph landscapes that have a kind of futuristic touch. That family of images started to grow, and for me they began to create an interesting body of work. Sometimes, the photos themselves can guide me a bit on my search to find the soul of the work.

Also, it is important to understand when I say that this is not exactly realistic. Of course, not everywhere in these regions is as empty as in the images. There are bigger villages, cities, which are more populated, and where I came across evidence of life and people, daily. I am not saying “everywhere is empty”, I just filter things to create imagery that fits into the subjective patterns I’m looking for.    

Read more about Joan Alvado’s Fading Away project in the new issue of LFI at LFI Magazine

Equipment: Leica M typ 240 with Summilux-M 1:1.4/50 mm ASPH.
© Jose Luis Carrillo
© Jose Luis Carrillo
Joan Alvado behind the camera... © Jose Luis Carrillo
...and the resulting image. © Joan Alvado
Actual image from the project “Fading Away“ © Joan Alvado
Actual image from the project “Fading Away“ © Joan Alvado
© Joan Cantó

Joan Alvado

Born in Altea, Spain, in 1979, Alvado has been pursuing his passion for photography in Barcelona since 2007. His work is primarily dedicated to documentary long-term projects, and is often based on stories from his homeland, or is set in environments that are familiar to him. He gives great importance to the story being original and makes every effort to avoid reproducing concepts and imagery that have already been used before.

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