I RETURNED TO SPAIN AGAIN IN 2007, for the first time with an actual assignment to produce a travel story or two. It was another press junket, sponsored by Air Transat, to a part of Spain I had never visited before – Andalusia and the Costa del Sol. It was my first time traveling with digital cameras, free from worrying about choosing between black and white and colour film, and budgeting my shots so I’d have film left at the end of the trip.
I had to produce words and pictures, but I was still a bit unsure about the ways and means of conventional travel photography. I hoped that I’d know what shots I had to take when they presented themselves to me, and in the meantime I’d take shots of whatever was simply irresistible – like the rich details that my eye was always drawn to in Spain, or this scene, glimpsed while passing through the Alcazar in Seville with our tour group:
The trip was a sort of greatest hits of Southern Spain – Seville, Cordoba, Granada, Jerez, Estepona and Malaga. Lots of cathedrals – no trip to Spain is complete without them – and some major tourist attractions like the Mosque in Cordoba and the Alhambra in Granada. Of course I took lots of wide shots in the spectacular spaces in the latter, but when I came home the best shots seemed to be of the details that caught my overwhelmed eye:
A friend who traveled through Spain with her boyfriend in the ’80s was robbed by bandits on a rural road; I keep remembering this when I read Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra, where he describes making his way through the countryside in “large and well-armed trains on appointed days.” I’m pretty sure Spain wasn’t like this anymore by 2007 – it certainly isn’t any more – but this was the sort of trip that made you think about what the country had been like, especially when you were spending so much time visiting historical places.
Part of my arsenal of cameras on this trip was a Leica D-Lux 3 – a loaner I was reviewing, whose major feature was a panoramic mode and an LCD screen on the back that matched its aspect ratio. I spent a lot of time with it, but for some reason instead of shooting in the usual landscape mode, I came back to find that most of my shots taken with the camera were vertical shots.
I’m not sure if I was just being perverse, or if I knew that my paper wouldn’t print super-wide panoramas, but they made more sense to me when I had the camera in my hand, and ended up offering up some interesting juxtapositions, like this pairing – a shot of a young bull destined for the corrida, taken at amidst the olive trees at a ranch near Gerena, and the bullring in Granada:
As one does, we ate our way through Andalucia, and one of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the Núñez de Prado olive oil factory in Baena. A family-run business since the late 18th century, it’s a thoroughly modern facility with the usual rows of towering stainless steel tanks and olive presses, but features a room of well-preserved vintage oil storage vats, where I photographed our guide, Francisco Núñez de Prado – an elegant man with beautiful manners, and one of the few people I’ve ever met whose life I actually envied.
Our trip took on an equestrian theme with a visit to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Jerez before our arrival for the Feria in Seville. The Feria was the centerpiece of the trip, and well worth seeing, especially if your idea of a fair involves footlong hot dogs and roller coasters instead of Iberico ham, fino sherry and teams of purebred horses pulling decorated carriages roaring through the crowds.
The tour took a swing through the Costa del Sol, for a night at a very nice beach resort in Estepona and a quick stop to gawk at the British nannies pushing strollers past the pricey bars and massive yachts by the docks in Marbella. The banking crisis was a year away so the expat community in southern Spain was at its height, with hundreds of half-completed condo towers and villas running up and down the hillsides all along the coast. It was a brief glimpse and I didn’t get any decent photos of it all, so my single regret from this trip is not getting a chance to document that moment in recent social and economic history.
Looking back at my photos over a decade later, I can see that I was more than a bit overwhelmed. I hadn’t learned how to choose my angles and shoot as I walked, so my shots feel a lot like awestruck gawking. To be fair, that’s how most tourists feel when they walk off the bus, past the ticket taker and into the scenic space. It would be my challenge as a travel photographer – at a much later date, mind you – to push past this first reaction to what I saw.
I saw an awful lot on this trip, and some of the best of it escaped my cameras, I’m sorry to admit. The Alhambra was a highlight, for sure, and the Pedro Domecq winery in Jerez – more ham and olives and some lovely sherry. But my breath was really taken away when we were taken to the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre in Malaga – the first really substantial Roman ruins I’d ever seen, and a reminder (not that I really needed it) that I was in a very old place.
Photos and story © 2018 Rick McGinnis All Rights Reserved
I really like all the Islamic details, and those of the ancient world. Closer to home, the Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre in North York both offer intricate details to photograph, some of it being commissioned artwork as part of the architecture itself.