A snapshot of country life

My photography centres primarily around landscapes which fits well with living in the mountains in Southern Spain. The view from the house across to La Maroma with its peak just over 2000 metres is fantastic and changes by the hour as the light changes.

Occasionally I venture out of my photographic comfort zone and stray away from landscapes. This photograph is an example of such a diversion. A portrait taken of my Spanish neighbour’s granddaughter about four years ago. It was taken on the track past my house (which I suppose also counts as street photography!). She was out walking with her grandmother and they stopped to say hello so I grabbed my camera and took a photo of her, printed it and they proudly framed it. End of that part of the story.

What I really want to talk about though is the spirit of sharing and comradeship that exists between neighbours in the Spanish countryside and this portrait sets the context. A few days ago her grandfather came to see me and asked if I could do some more prints of the photo as they had relatives visiting from another part of Spain and they wanted to take copies of the photo back with them for other members of the family. Of course I said yes.

In our part of the countryside there is a dichotomy between relatively rich northern Europeans who have moved into the area and the local families who have lived in the valley for many generations and have seen donkeys replaced by cars and candles by electric lamps. The Spanish family ties are strong in contrast to us northern European immigrants who have often sacrificed family proximity in pursuit of the sun.

The traditional Spanish lifestyle here revolves around harvesting and selling your olives which is very seasonal and doesn’t generate a lot of cash. Food therefore is a precious resource. Chickens are kept for eggs and the occasional treat of meat, goats provide milk and meat, fruit and vegetables are grown. Nature also plays its part – wild asparagus is abundant, almond trees are common and the climate means the growing season for everything lasts almost all year.

Anyway, back to the photograph. Prints delivered, family overjoyed and money was offered. I diplomatically declined payment and offered the prints as a Christmas gift. The next thing I knew, my gift was returned in the country way – my neighbour arrived with six eggs and three bunches of grapes, fairly quickly followed by a sack of oranges and lemons from his trees. The reason I am writing about this is because I found the experience quite moving. It somehow wove together things like the pleasures of family (grandchildren particularly), the blessing of good neighbours and the willingness for those neighbours to share what they have with each other. It made me think about how blasé we can be about photography in this digital age. It made me realise that no matter how easy it is to take a photograph and produce a print, that photograph can go beyond simply recording people or events, and become something that strengthens social connections and brings neighbours closer together – at least in the countryside!

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