The striking white cloaks and pointed hats of the Semana Santa Marinera are truly a sight to behold, and after catching a glimpse of them whilst relaxing in a bar in Valencia, photographer Chris Clunn knew almost immediately that it was a story worth telling.
“A man and a woman hurried passed me dressed in long capes. In one hand they each carried a pointed hat and in the other, a long metal staff,” says Chris, likening it to the famous Batman and Robin scene in Only Fools and Horses. After seeing more people in the same attire, he “grabbed his trusty rolleiflex” and followed them to the church, where he saw hundreds of people congregated, dressed as everything from Roman Centurions to biblical characters.
“This was my first glimpse of Semana Santa Marinera, and I quickly saw that it was going to be my next body of work,” he explains – six years on this vast project is finally being released as a book, by the same title, Semana Santa Marinera.
Chris learned his photographic trade under the tutelage of Soho legend ‘Gypsy’ Joe Andrews in the 1970s, before going on to have a successful career as a photographer in the music press. Since the 1990s he has turned his hand to social documentation, producing some stunning accounts of often overlooked parts of the UK such as Pie & Mash shops and old Smithfield meat market.
Now dividing his time between North Wales and Valencia, this is Chris’ first piece of work in his adopted home. “This project is probably one of my favourite studies in years,” he tells It’s Nice That. “It has a real intimacy to it, and the images are a very true representation of the holy week and its importance to the people and the area where it takes place.”
The religious attire that is worn during the festival has obviously developed sinister connotations due to similar clothing being adopted by the Ku Klux Klan. Arguably, this makes it an important subject to document, shedding light on a tradition that has no associations with the Ku Klux Klan’s ideologies. Providing a window into this unique celebration was one of Chris’ motivations: “I wanted to explain Semana Santa to others that don’t understand what holy week is,” he says.
A self-confessed traditionalist, Chris shoots solely in black and white, having learned the art of black and white printing as an understudy to the expert Robin Bell. Besides this, he does not adhere to one style. He chooses to shoot in a way that comes naturally to him based on his influences.
“I don’t really see that I have any style as such, if anything I am just following in the footsteps of my inspirations. I suppose the medium format cameras that I use give a certain style or look to an image as it is square – I have always preferred the square image,” he says, citing how he also feels more comfortable using these cameras that allow him to look down into the viewfinder.
The images in the series often focus on the people taking part in this fascinating festival, clad in a variety of eye-catching outfits. Some show the manic and busy nature of the festival, whilst others show tender and calmer moments, most notably, one man walks ahead of the pack dressed as a centurion.
Amassing such a variety of images was achieved by revisiting the festival each year, it is a kind of artistic immersion that Chris has long been a fan of. He goes on to explain that, “many of my projects take a very long time to produce, often done over a period of years.”
The time taken to produce this particular project was exacerbated further due to Chris self-publishing and self-funding it. “The last six years have been a real labour of love for me,” he says. “It has been hard work at times, but fundamentally I wanted to make a guide to Semana Santa, and try and explain what it is and what it means to the people of El Cabanyal.”
GalleryChris Clunn: Semana Santa Marinera
Chris Clunn: Semana Santa Marinera
About the Author
Charlie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in December 2019. He has previously worked at Monocle 24, and The Times following an MA in International Journalism at City University. If you have any ideas for stories and work to be featured then get in touch.