Photographer Kevin Faingnaert depicts Spain’s El Rocío pilgrimage in a cinematic light

The photographer shares the experience of immersing himself in an infectious community atmosphere and taking a photograph that still gives him “chills”.

24 April 2024


Kevin Faingnaert has a magnetic attraction to folk traditions, subcultures and alternative modes of existing. Across his career, his personal projects have focused on festivals, post-capitalist societies and solstices. His most recent series expands on this niche, and sees him immersed in the El Rocío pilgrimage, one of Spain’s most famous festivals held in Andalusia. Each year, around the Pentecost, thousands of pilgrims flock to spend days undertaking the camino, as a way of paying their thanks to the Virgin. It’s done on foot or by horse, with brightly coloured and adorned wagons pulled along, with pilgrims often wearing traditional Andalusian clothing: full skirted flamenco dresses, traje corto suits and wide-brimmed hats. This, combined with the festivals taking place at the onset of spring, makes for an arresting visual display – one the Belgian photographer couldn’t resist.

Though it’s not only El Rocío’s striking nature that attracts Kevin, it’s the sense of community too. “I love [folk festivals] because they temporarily make the ordinary something extraordinary,” says Kevin. “But at the same time, they foster bonds of camaraderie and forge connections within communities.” This is what Kevin tries to really uplift in his work, the sense of shared identity, tradition and mutual respect these festivals foster. “I firmly believe that human connection is fundamental to our existence, especially in this time where individualism strives,” he says.


Kevin Faingnaert (Copyright © Kevin Faingnaert, 2022)

Kevin found that this sense of community isn’t one that exists just between the pilgrims – it’s extended to bystanders too. Attending the festival with his friend the writer Anna Hart, soon after finding the pilgrims in Doñana national park – following the sounds of cowbells, horses, flamenco guitar and people singing – the pair were being offered bottles of beer and slices of cured ham. Speaking in Spanish to the pilgrims, he and Anna were soon invited to join a group and walk with them. People were receptive to being photographed, proud to have their contribution to the festivities captured, and many enjoyed it – though Kevin asked every individual beforehand, asking them a few questions about their reasons for joining the pilgrimage too. This extra attention didn’t hamper Kevin’s speed or enthusiasm, “Anna lost me multiple times a day because I ran away hunting for a photo opportunity,” he says.

The array of shots throughout the series is quite astonishing. A group of figures clad in multi-coloured flamenco dresses sit on the back of a wagon singing in unison; a crowd of pilgrims emerge from a cloud of dust, accentuated by the bright sunlight; a young man sits on a horse wearing structured, decorative clothing, a sense of pride emanating from within.

There’s one image that stands out to Kevin the most, however – that of the Huelva brotherhood reaching the final point of the pilgrimage. “Locals informed me that they tackle the most challenging path, characterised by steep hills and difficult sand dunes,” says Kevin. “As the sun began to set, the Huelva brotherhood finally arrived.” Alongside the many pilgrims who had lined up to meet the weary travellers, Kevin snapped them against the setting dusk, turning them all into silhouettes, aside from the glowing, candlelit Virgin diorama they carried with them. It’s an enchanting image, one that still gives Kevin “chills” when he recalls it. It almost looks like a still from a film, cinematic to its core, and that’s what Kevin’s work does so well. He takes something that almost sounds too remarkable, too bygone to be real, and proves to you that it really does exist – and it’s just as stunning as you might think.

GalleryKevin Faingnaert (Copyright © Kevin Faingnaert, 2022)

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Kevin Faingnaert (Copyright © Kevin Faingnaert, 2022)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English Literature and History, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

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