In the early fall of 2018, I visited a retrospective exhibition of a well known Spanish photographer, Mr. Carlos Canovas. A large section was a series of black and white photographs taken in the early 90s at the Ria de Bilbao, then a huge heavy industry zone along the banks of the estuary of the river Nervión, which goes inland for miles as a sea water fjord -or loch-, a “ria” in Spain’s spanish, subject to tides.
Most of that heavy industry is now gone or in transition as in many other areas of the developed world.
The Cantabrian sea is a portion of Atlantic Ocean known internationally as the Bay of Biscay. It is famous for its stormy weather and imposing landscapes of cliffs and rocks. The Spanish side of the Bay is a narrow fringe of land divided from the rest of the country by a range of mountains. In the 19th and 20th centuries it became the industrial engine of Spain, first with coal and iron ore mines, later with heavy industry: steel mills, shipyards, large chemical, mechanical industry…. The four large industrial ports (Bilbao, Santander, Gijon and Aviles) spread along the coast epitomize this huge effort and still stand today, with a mix of old and new both in buildings and activities, although the whole region is moving swiftly into a postindustrial future.
The ports are tremendously active during daytime, but at nightfall activity comes down and you can see things in their essence: I chose what photographers call the ´blue hour´ -the time after sunset where light is slowly waning- and the early evening hours that followed.
This maritime landscape, shot at night and mostly devoid of people, produces sensations of strength and human achievement, of beauty shown through the play of utilitarian lamps and lights and the shadows created by the falling night; also of decay and solitude.
I feel particularly touched by the knowledge that many of the things I have photographed during these months will be gone in a few years. I have registered a transient moment in time, and these images might be looked at in the future as a registry of things gone.
Although I never lived full time in the North or these cities, my personal life has been closely linked to the area. Hence, this project has been also a personal voyage in time and memories, something very close to my heart.
Northern lights was fielded between the late fall of 2018 and April of 2019. The Project reached the finals at the Photojournalism awards at Albarracin, and was awarded the first prize in the 2019 edition of the Encuentros Fotograficos de Gijón
Please be aware that images depicted here are only a selection. The Master file for the project comprises a total of 84 images.
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