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.
Critiques | Translate
macjake (54876) 2014-06-17 4:08
well, where do i even begin with this one!
I read your entire note, and it certainly comes across as sympathetic to the homeless.
We don't get to hear that very often do we, no matter what city or what country you're talking about.
I've never been to Barcelona, but i have been to Venice...and your comments about how do locals live in such a touristy driven city deal with it struck a cord with me.
I was actually thinking that same thing when i was IN Venice just a couple weeks ago.
a thought provoking post for sure, unexpected, yet a refreshing take on an ongoing social dilema.
excellent post for TE, job well done
timecapturer (47420) 2014-06-17 4:19
a powerful image, no matter which City it is taken in, and a powerful commentary to accompany it. Hard hitting imagery and photo journalism of the most thought provoking. Well taken and I applaud you for posting it here.
Regards - B.
SnapRJW (30685) 2014-06-17 7:10
Congratulations Mike on a very well considered and moving note and a very good reportage style photograph. I love the PP work here and this shot compared to your previous upload has far more depth and impact. This subject obviously means a lot to you and it shows both in the written and in the visual.
A first class upload!
Giustiniani (3290) 2014-06-17 8:13
une photo et une note percutantes.
une réflexion humaine et intelligente sur la condition et l'avenir des hommes dans nos sociétés ultra-capitalistes.
Un post courageux et un très beau travail.
krzychu30 (15442) 2014-06-17 10:59
An image and note,that should open our eyes and I think provoke thought.I agree in 100% what you wrote in the note.But apart from the tourism industry,it´s I think also the economic model of present days,which treat us like an object and does not forgive any mistakes we make in our life.
I´m glad to see this one in your gallery here(even if the picture is let´s say a little bit against the trends here on TE).
Meaningful work Mike!
Wish You a good evening
Noel_Byrne (22751) 2014-06-17 11:18
powerful image and note, and sentiments I full agree with. Seeing the rise in homeless figures, and readin threads on bulletin boards about how they should be dealt with, or moved on is disheartening. So many people see them as nothing more than flies, as you so well put it. For me, it is heartbreaking to see someone's son, brother, sister or mother in these horrible circumstances, but it is becoming all too common and its getting worse.
The inclusion of the mans possessions on the left are for me a very poignant and touching part of the photograph.
Beautiful post, well done.
ourania (29361) 2014-06-17 14:25
I could be the fly, in both senses too. Lots of people are incredibly close to the thin line that separates life as we knew it from this situation. Your picture is raw but, unfortunately, not as strange and unfamiliar as it should be. I wonder about the distance Carlo has kept from his stuff and about the desperate acceptance of his situation, about the broader setting that hosts him and the people who pass him by. It's so embarrassing to look at a homeless person even in a photo but then I think that so many people in Greece who used to feel like this now have found themselves in a similar situation. The solutions proposed by those who profess to have the answers are scary too. I'm sure I'll remember your picture and note for a long time. Thank you for the insight.
All the best, have a good night,
Glint (6165) 2014-06-18 1:17
an uncomfortable yet technically fine image. Outstanding note. I recently took a first holiday on the Costa del Sol and saw it as a blighted place. Someone pointed to an area of land on which now sat a supermarket supplying goods to holidaymakers who have bought properties on big complexes. She said a smallholder had once farmed the land. The vegetation around (where once finches gleaned seeds)was brown where weed killer had been applied, apparently to safeguard against grass fires. The holiday industry has brought much wealth to some there but at what cost? I despair as neoliberalism sweeps the world economic order and suspect things will only get worst: http://newint.org/features/2014/05/01/trojan-treaties/
I wish that TE had more thoughtful contributors like yourself, after all, isn't photographer also about bearing witness? Life is not always pretty.
wolf38 (31258) 2014-06-18 23:29
Hello Michael. Yes, those scenes are part of our everyday life. We want to close our eyes because the homeless disrupt our ideal world view. Your photo and the very informative text bring the problem to the point. Overall a journalistic contribution to TE.
Best rgds, Wolfgang.
trevormoffiet (3048) 2014-06-19 1:37
I appreciate the effort that you put into the note to accompany your image. Most people don't realise how close to the edge they might be themselves. It is a sad image but a justifiably jolting one. My younger brother was dealt some terrible blows from life in early parenthood that unraveled him. He was homeless at times and unemployed. He did not make 60.
danos (85143) 2014-06-19 21:44
a good reportage shot from this district of Barcelona,with the homeless man to sleep on the pavement near his lonely property,the carriage.A lot of senses like this,there are in South Europe,because of the economical crisis.
jhm (137610) 2014-06-21 1:03
I finds this always very a pity that people so depth can fall, but we life in a modern society.
But sometimes are drugs and drink the base of the troubles, but always with a background!
Your picture would have to get, the world press price.
Very well done, TFS.
Have a nice weekend,
CLODO (29914) 2014-06-21 1:22
Interesting long note to underline your picture. As a street photographer, I NEVER take in picture these poor people, they are still human, but I agree with your position by giving him an EURO banknote to thank him for having taken the picture and spent some time talking with him.
tyro (19746) 2014-06-24 9:57
First of all, you have written a very thoughtful and very well constructed note about society in Barcelona but your comments could equally apply to so many other big cities where commerce and finacial power have taken away the rights of the city's people to live.
Interestingly, I was just the other night watching that programme "A Cabbie Abroad" and Mason McQueen, a London cabbie, was telling of and showing the horrific situation in Phnom Penh where the government has cleared massive areas of the city for redevelopment and so made many thousands of people homeless. But to see this sort of thing happening in Western Europe brings it just so much closer to home.
Not only is your note very explicit and poignant but so also is your photograph. Almost devoid of colour and with a wonderful "grittiness" to it which helps accentuate the feeling of dirt and grime and the unsavoury and unhealthy conditions under which this man is living his poor life. And the old shopping trolley on the left holding all his worldy goods, adds to the poignancy too.
TE exists for us to "learn about the World through photography" and, to my mind at least, that doesn't just mean photographs of sunny beaches but it also means photographs of some of the more depressing and seedy sides of life. So this is a most appropriate upload for TE in my opinion - an excellent note and a perfect photograph to illustrate it, even if the subject matter might prove just a little distressing or distasteful for some readers.
And, as for for yourself, I can imagine that probably the most rewarding, if most upsetting, aspect of all this was having that lengthy conversation with Carlo himself.
holmertz (39489) 2014-06-24 12:40
This is an extremely disturbing but necessary photo and it's accompanied by possibly the most meaningful note I have read on TE.
- Copyright: Michael Wright (mjw364) (7270)
- Genre: People
- Medium: Color
- Date Taken: 2014-05-25
- Categories: Daily Life, Decisive Moment
- Camera: Nikon D7000, 18-105mm 3.5 - 5.6G ED AF-S VR Nikkor
- Exposure: f/8, 1/125 seconds
- Photo Version: Original Version
- Date Submitted: 2014-06-17 2:30