During the summer of 2008, a group of Saharawis children who were living in a refugee camp in Tindouf (Argel) spent a few weeks of holiday in my town, Premià de Mar, and I decided to make a photographic work of their stay. This time with them allowed me to understand better the reality that they were experiencing in the desert, and the following year I decided to visit them and make a photographic work about their life as refugees. In relation to my photographic career, the intention of the work was to lead my way as a photographer covering international conflicts. However, this project was developed during a period in which I started to become critical of some aspects of the iconography of documentary, and also with the idea of travelling to remote places depicting conflicts that do not belong to my direct social reality.
In my previous works, representing my local reality has allowed me to have a better understanding about what I was depicting, and present a critical view resulting from my personal experience with social problems that affect my own community. The Sahara work, by the contrary, was the first time in my photographic career that I decided to do a project depicting a reality that was completely unfamiliar to me. I was an Occidental photographer who for three weeks was escaping from my routine pretending to explain to others the suffering of being a refugee. Therefore, as a consequence of depicting a conflict that does not belong to my own reality I did a superficial representation, doing something similar to a photographic safari, accompanied by a driver, I had sporadic encounters with the victims, depicting them through sentimentalism and nostalgia.
The humanitarian image that ‘Saharawis’ work represents, which is some sense for years was my main influence, stopped to interest me. In ‘Saharawis’, beyond the rhetoric of the representation of mostly melancholic images of women and children, the pictures do not show any deeper approach which can generate knowledge or political critique about the conflict that is being depicted. Therefore, I myself wonder if with this representation I have any real possibility to accomplish the ambitious objective to change the war, or this was just an excuse to justify my exotic visual interest in representing the suffering of the others.
Considering that the superficial appearance I presented was a result of my lack of personal experience with the conflict, after this experience I decided to abandon the idea to cover international conflicts. In addition, contrary to the general historical political aim of a documentary which pretends to political changes in international conflicts, I was more interested in continuing to investigate my local reality with the aim of generating social debate and political change in my own local community.
‘Saharawis’. Argel 2008. Series of 20 pictures.