Spain’s pain

October 12, 2012

By Jon Nazca

SLIDESHOW: SPAIN’S AUSTERITY PAIN

I have taken a look back through the archives for the first pictures illustrating the crisis in Spain. It was a story about a protest of goat herders and farmers in Malaga in May 2008. They protested with their goats to demand measures from the government to solve the crisis they were facing.

Months later, Spanish truck drivers protested against the rising fuel costs paralyzing the country for several days.

Protests and demonstrations continued until the Spanish people woke up on May 15, 2011 with the 15-M movement, also known as The Indignants, protesting against the ongoing financial crisis, politicians and bankers. The Spanish Revolution began and with it came endless revolutionary images.

Since then, the crisis has continued evolving. The taxes, cuts and rate of unemployment have increased, and the pictures have been getting stronger. To be better informed for my work I have needed to read more economic news to deeply understand the crisis from a political and financial perspective.

It is really difficult to capture stories of the crisis when it is not about a protest, a demonstration, an eviction or a strike. The crisis exists; it is there but it can not be seen by the naked eye. However, a very visible story is the Spanish property bubble, where thousands of buildings are unfinished or uninhabited. One of my assignments was to photograph these constructions along the Costa del Sol. These pictures have a cold, dead nature.

On the other hand, when I take social pictures of the crisis, sometimes it’s difficult not to feel affected. But I have no choice but to make a shield and focus on my work, for example, when I am covering the eviction of a family.

Last summer, members of the Andalusian Union of Workers (SAT), agricultural laborers and the unemployed marched along roads over the course of several days protesting against austerity measures. I walked with them for many miles under the punishing sun. After some days together it was inevitable to identify with them because who has not had a relative, a friend or someone you know suffering the consequences of the crisis.

It was difficult to listen to their personal stories and not feel their frustration, but despite this I had to concentrate, analyze and show the moment with the most professionalism and dignity as possible.

When I take pictures of unemployed people waiting in line to enter a government job center, they look at me strangely. Some of them cover their faces to avoid being photographed, but when I get close to talk to them they ask me: “why are you taking our picture?” I answer them: “Today the government reported the updated unemployment rate.” Finally they say: “Then take pictures. Take pictures, so people can see what the government is doing!”

One day a man waiting in line told me I was the lucky person because in that moment I was the only person working on that street. Those words marked me.

The tough thing for photographers is to be delicate while taking pictures in big cities such as Madrid or Barcelona during the protests. Many photographers cover these protests wearing a helmet and other protection for their security. This proves to be an indispensable kit as clashes with riot police become more violent. There are also cases of broken cameras and beaten or detained photographers.

On one occasion, I arrived during the night to cover the occupation of military land, known as Las Turquillas, by members of the SAT to demand the ministry redistribute the land to local families and farmers. They thought I was an undercover police officer despite carrying my cameras and showing them my press card. It was not until hours later, with the arrival of two other photographers whom they knew, that the protesters began to trust me.

My most recent pictures of the crisis have been of a protest called by trade unions, but I focused on a couple of pensioners; Carmen, 83, and Francisco, 82. They have three unemployed daughters – one of which accompanied them during the protest.

While a leader of a trade union gave a speech, Carmen and Francisco cried. For me to see them with tears in their eyes made me feel sad because they have experienced hard times during the Spanish post-war years. Their tears are real tears of pain and uncertainty for what might come.

Spain is not just the crisis but it is true that many people are having a bad time.

When I take pictures of the crisis, I try to capture the consequences of the crisis in the people. I try to do that in as dignified a way as possible, which can sometimes be an ethical challenge. But the most complicated thing is to show the creators of the crisis.

3 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Did Spaniards (like Greeks and many others) think they could “live the good life” forever, without actually earning it?

Free pensions, free healthcare, free schools, hordes of unproductive civil servants taking home generous salaries – it all seems normal, except for the fact that Spain’s economy really produces very little. The “good life” is sustained by high taxes and especially excessive government borrowing.

Now the party is over; hard times have arrived.
In previous generations austerity was practiced and was referred to as “living within your means.”

And despite the misery, there are still many people who say to just borrow more (bail-out loans) or leave the Euro (and what, just print as many pesetas as you need?)

Germany and Spain both use the same currency. The Euro is not the problem, it is the people and their attitude with respect to hard work and financial discipline.

Posted by Anthonykovic | Report as abusive

very sad….yet inspiring..

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

Anthonykovic, Spain has really lived beyond it’s possibilities, but you say it like if the people of the street had done it.
But as spanish i’ve to say that the government was the one who said, spain is going well, don’t worry we’re one of the best countries of the world.
People didn’t believed that, but few years after we’ve a country full of high speed trains which are empty of people, we’ve ghost cities and bankruptcy that we’re paying, and all this bankruptcy it’s for not paying that buildings.
and it’s not a think from one political party, all the power in spain is corrupted.
ex ministers are the governors of banks, and bigheads of bic enterprises say what the government have to do.
As a spanish person, i feel ashamed of our politicians.
Since the first day i thought that spain could afford all that inversions, but in a “democratic system” like we’ve today, people can’t do anything but believe what government say because if we protest we’re treated like trash…
I just wanted to post a view from a spanish civilian.
i don’t like europe i don’t like merkel and i don’t like the “democracy” of these days…

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive