Photographer's Note

The number of homeless people I witnessed this year in Barcelona compared with last seemed to me to have increased. Whilst walking around the MACBA I happened upon the scene in the picture above. The MACBA was originally built to help economically regenerate one of the city's most run down areas and cosmetically it may appear to have done so (for the cultural tourist cum voyeur at least)but the scene above provides a more sobering portrayal of what lurks just below the surface in Barcelona.

With my camera I consume Barcelona as I peer at the lives of others through its lens and record it's material architecture. I am a watcher; a voyeur on the outside looking in. Nowhere did I feel this more acutely than when I took the above shot. I felt like a fly on the wall, as they say. But in Barcelona it is the homeless like the man in the image who are the flies to be swatted.

Consider his life as a fly in Barcelona's ointment for the soul, bought mostly by tourists like me. Like a fly he is insignificant to people, small and overlooked until he annoys. Yet this fly has blood, guts, nerve and shares this world with us all. People want to swat him and kill him and forget about him in an instant. What goes on in his mind? What is it like to be him? Where does he go? How does he maintain a level of self preservation and sanity in his current circumstance? Does he have choices and a sense of free will? How self aware is he? Does he have a perspective on his situation? How does he deal with hunger? He is a fly, but cannot fly away or to a place he wishes to be? What winds blew him here? How and when did he lose his wings? Why does he carry on with the "dance" of the dying fly?

I disturbed the man in the image when I took his photo and he asked me for money in return for taking his photograph. I gave him 5 euro. I found out that his name was Carlo and that he had once been employed in the car industry that had now moved to other countries too far from Spain from him to consider moving with them. He told me at night he slept in a large warehouse with hundreds of immigrants who were homeless. In the day he wanders the city begging, sleeping and collecting scrap metal from the bins along the streets. He has to take his things with him in the trolley because it would be stolen if he left it at the warehouse. That was pretty much all he told me in his best broken English and my very limited Spanish.

Later that day, whilst walking along La Rambla in the heart of Barcelona's tourist area, I happened upon an exhibition called 25%: Catalonia at Venice. This exhibition documented in photography and film the lives of 8 unemployed and/or homeless people who live in Barcelona. One of those stories was about a woman called Gessami Sanchez Olle, who was aged 33. The notes in the exhibition, which I photographed, told me Gessami has a PhD in Biochemistry and years of experience working in prestigious research centres. To finance her studies while studying she worked as a conference hostess, babysitter, autopsy technician and private tutor. After four years working in the laboratories of the University of Barcelona as a postgraduate she was offered a position with "no pay, no insurance, no right to sick leave, maternity leave or holidays and no social security contributions from her employer". She complains that research at university level "is not governed by professional merit". She fears that the lack of opportunity will force her to leave Spain, especially since the way the Spanish economy is being managed has meant many scientific research programs have been left without funding. She is a member of D-Recerca, an association of PhD students who campaign to end employment instability and insecurity for Spain's researchers.

Like Carlo above, one could argue that she is a fly. A super fly. Better educated but still being blown on the breeze, looking for food and a kind host. Or maybe, if I had better Spanish I might have found out that Carlo had a university education too and that, in fact, he has simply been unemployed for longer. Either way, they are both highlighting a cautionary tale about the increasingly mobile nature of global capitalism and Gessami in particular, highlights that even belief in the meritocratic values underpinning her educational path guarantees no security in today's world. The bottom line is that in both cases, there but for the grace of God goes any one of us. I was lucky to be a tourist in Barcelona, as a tourist I should pay it far more respect than I do when I visit.

On Sunday, in the Guardian newspaper here in the UK, an article pointed out that, Barcelona's 1.6 million residents have seen a rise in the number of visitors from 1.7 million in 1990 to more than 7.4 million in 2012. In conversation with Juan (an ex-TE member) we discussed how the identity of Barcelona had changed in the post-1992 Olympic games period. I made the point that perhaps Barcelona's mistake was that in 1992 it invited the world to come to the games but they never left; Juan agreed.

In a documentary called 'Bye Bye Barcelona' Eduardo Chibas states that "I don't know one resident in Barcelona that in some way doesn't feel like there's something wrong with the amount of people who come here every year". He went on to say "We're all tourists, we like to visit other places and everyone acknowledges the fact that it creates jobs and can be a source of wealth." But in the documentary a resident tells him "This is not a city to live in. It's a theme park like Prague or Venice". Or, in the words of Juan, it no longer feels like "his" city. Such a feeling is also echoed in a further comment by Chibás who states,. "People live in these areas. What happens when everything around you turns into commerce for tourists? Basically it stops being a place where you can live".

The fact that it is no longer a place where you can live, when global tourism hits town is also part of the underlying story in my image above. Barcelona is not "my" city. It belongs to its residents. It's time to give it back. Global capitalism took away the jobs, Barcelona hoped the new tourist industry would replace them but the jobs it has provided instead are, as Gessami's story highlights, poorly paid with few employment rights; designed to maximise profit at all costs, including human and social costs. At this point my own morality and capitalism's part company. I suspect many other people may feel the same.

Next time you see a fly, don't swat it.

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Additional Photos by Michael Wright (mjw364) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 543 W: 6 N: 1492] (7516)
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