“Everything that can happen to a human being is either happening to someone, somewhere right now, or someone, somewhere is waiting for it to happen. In this precise moment, someone is waiting to be tortured, someone else is waiting for the perfect moment for a first kiss,” says Barcelona-based photographer Txema Salvans.
Suspension of time is a topic he’s documented extensively in two book length photo-essays, last year’s The Waiting Game and it’s recently released sequel The Waiting Game 2, a pair of projects conceived and shot on Spain’s Mediterranean coast.
Nearly a decade ago now, Txema was assigned by a Spanish newspaper to take “two or three” images of highway sex work on the coast. Affected deeply by his work for the paper, and not wanting to begin a project that might sound, and look, like little more than an anecdote, he decided to spend eight years travelling the Mediterranean from Girona down to Algrecias, with the aim of producing a body of work that was more of a study of space than personhood and profession.
In an attempt to ensure that the project wasn’t understood in terms of a voyueristic approach to sex workers, an unintentional means of othering the figures in the photos, Txema, developed a trio of principles that provided a structural and ideological backbone for a project that had the potential to veer into sneering sensationalism or offensive deindividualization.
Firstly, he decided to protect the identity of the subject by taking the photo from a distance, turning the story from portrait to landscape. Then he compounded that by rigidly sticking to a decision to use the “worst light you can use for a landscape image,” with the effect being in Txema’s words, “images that are mundane and desolate, removed of sexuality,” images where “all activity is taking place for everyone to see, with nothing hidden in the dark.” Lastly, he attempted to negate, “what in biology they call ‘the display,’” as a means of eliminating leading body language from the photos. The results are arid, airless, and heavy like heat-haze fluttering in the horizon.
Shot in such a way that they seem to melt into their surroundings, the women in these scenes – scenes that hum with the kind of rigid boredom that only the waiting game can bring on – are framed in such a way that it feels like Txema is attempting to comment on how sex workers are often ignored by passers-by.
“These women are part of the landscape, seemingly in the same way as a gas station or a bus stop. They become a reference of the landscape, they are reified so they stop being people, they are invisible. And when someone, or something, is invisible, the politicians who manage our public spaces will always find a way to ensure they’re never given priority,” he theorizes.
That book was the first in a trilogy. This year’s follow-up sees Txema turn his lens on another set of people marked by the gaps between moments; the Spanish angling community. Again relying on his trio of photographic principles, The Waiting Game 2 explores the notion that waiting is a unifying universalism.
“I see the book as a way of using the world of fishermen as an example of the dystopia of self-consciousness,” he tells us. “Like its predecessor, it is also composed of 41 images taken throughout the Spanish Mediterranean between 2010 and 2017.”
When we mention to Txema that our dad is a keen angler, and someone who seems to seek solace in the kind of stillness and clarity than a pastime so weighted in waiting can offer, he grows a little pensive. “I grew up in a single-parent family, I never met my father nor did I have siblings to share games with. I grew up in the Barcelona of the 70s, in a relatively small apartment. I was an introverted child and I discovered, by intuition or luck, that to fight against the long hours of boredom and solitude the best way was to cultivate an intimate universe, where reading and observation had a lot to say,” he begins.
“I think that ability to observe had a lot to do with my abilities as a photographer. In that “stillness” that you mention, the thoughts that later come to light with photography are elaborated. At the age of eight I met my paternal grandfather, and I began to spend long summer seasons with him in a village in the Catalan Pyrenees. Many summer evenings we fished in a nearby river. It is difficult to define happiness but those memories are the closest thing to the happiness I experienced. An adventure with a loved person who protected me and put me in value, that was for me, fishing."
For Txema Salvans, waiting is never wasted time. In fact, waiting is the most natural thing in the world.