Capturing Truth and Stereotypes in Southern Europe's Financial Crisis

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Jan. 20 2014 11:11 AM

Capturing Truth and Stereotypes in Southern Europe's Financial Crisis

PALERMO, ITALY - OCTOBER 27 2013: an advertising photo shooting in the Vucciria Street Market. A blonde sexy woman is a timeless cliché that seems to work in every possible situation. At first I didn't notice it was a set up situation. It catched my attention, but it didn't seem impossible to be true. I never knew what was the shooting for.
An advertising photo shoot in the Vucciria Street Market in Palermo, Italy, in 2013. Spottorno said: "A blond, sexy woman is a timeless cliché that seems to work in every possible situation. At first I didn't notice it was a set-up situation. It caught my attention, but it didn't seem impossible to be true. I never knew what was the shoot was for."

Carlos Spottorno

The more Spanish photographer Carlos Spottorno read in the business media about the plight of Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain, known as “the PIGS,” the more frustrated he became. Facing financial crisis, those countries, he felt, were being treated as second-class citizens within the European Union. Spottorno decided to begin a photography project that had a documentary style but was really more interpretive, a way of illustrating the stereotypes—laziness, corruption, the inability to keep up with their more sophisticated northern neighbors, among others—he read in the press, translated through his images.

Approaching the project like the Farm Security Administration photographers had done during the Great Depression, Spottorno began shooting in Spain in 2008. He eventually decided to include the other countries in the project, photographing scenes as he saw them without doing any additional reporting. He focused on what citizens of the PIGS might find embarrassing in order to highlight the negative press and to capture what financial journalists imagined when they wrote about the PIGS.

“Some people could say that I am contributing to the perpetuation of the stereotypes by putting them together in such an obvious way,” Spottorno wrote via email. “People feel very clearly the unfairness of the whole PIGS concept when they are exposed to the images.”

JEREZ, SPAIN - OCTOBER 27, 2012: a cow stands on a walkside of a newly built dormitory suburb in the outskirts of Jerez, a city that illustrates everything that went wrong in Spain: rapid growth based on seemingly limitless borrowing, which produced a glut of houses and office space that nobody wants, right where the city abruptly ends. This mid-sized city of 212,000 people owes one billion euros. Unemployment in Jerez is around 34 percent.
A cow stands on a sidewalk of a newly built suburb on the outskirts of Jerez, Spain, in 2012. Jerez is a city that illustrates everything that went wrong in Spain: rapid growth based on seemingly limitless borrowing, which produced a glut of houses and office space that nobody wants—right where the city abruptly ends. This midsized city of 212,000 people owes 1 billion euros. Unemployment in Jerez was 34 percent in 2012.

Carlos Spottorno

MOLLINA, SPAIN - AUGUST 12 2009: Young men play mud-football. The budget for patronal festivities has been cut so much that only very cheap activities were possible. Photo by Carlos Spottorno / Getty Images
Young men play mud football in Mollina, Spain, in 2009. The budget for patronal festivities has been cut so much that only very cheap activities are possible.

Carlos Spottorno

PALERMO, ITALY - OCTOBER 20, 2010: Corrado Valvo, Noto mayor, demonstrates in front of the City Council in Palermo to protest for the closing of Noto's hospital. He is surrounded by his city local police agents, who back him. In Italy It is not unusual to see politicians leading demonstrations wearing full dress uniform. The man speaking with two mobile phones while covering his mouth, and the gang looks are misleading: they are not the evil ones in this situation.
Corrado Valvo, mayor of Noto, Sicily, demonstrates in front of the city council in Palermo, Italy, in 2010 to protest the closing of Noto's hospital. In Italy seeing politicians leading demonstrations wearing full dress uniform is not unusual.

Carlos Spottorno

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Spottorno feels that looking at the images prompts a more intense reaction than simply reading about the stereotypes. He also says there is truth to the images, and many of the people living in the countries he profiles are either too stubborn or simply not ready to acknowledge that their once rich and powerful countries are now dealing with a very real crisis. “It’s really hard for a European to accept that we are living in a kind of second-class First World, and as long as we don’t react very strongly against cultural and social decay, we are condemned to take the path to the Second World,” he wrote.

About halfway through the project, Spottorno decided to publish the images in book form. But instead of a traditional book, he created his own satirical version of the Economist magazine using the same design, style, and paper; he titled it The Pigs. It  “I chose to do it that way, so the reader would immediately be immersed in the financial frame I am dealing with,” he said. “I wanted the reader to quickly understand the context of the project.” Spottorno also wanted the story to be easily shared, so he created a website that included captions with the images, which were left out of the magazine, to encourage people to engage in a conversation. The Pigs, published by RM Verlag & Phree, was shortlisted for the 2013 Paris Photo–Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards.

Spottorno said he is happy The Pigs has been successful in getting his message across and allowing him to work as a photographer to create stimulating projects. “I try to balance obviousness and sophistication so both experts and amateurs can find a comfortable way through the story,” he said. “I try hard to avoid insulting people’s intelligence, but I don’t want to produce a book that people will have to pretend they understand to avoid being accused of ignorance.”

CARBONERAS, ALMERÍA, SPAIN - AUGUST 08 2012:  hotel "El Algarrobico" was built in a protected Natural Park with the complicity of local authorities. Popular activism and the pressure made by Greenpeace stopped the project, although after a decade of legal activity it has not yet been demolished. Many among the local population would rather keep the hotel and have some tourism income. Photo by Carlos Spottorno / Getty Images
Hotel El Algarrobico, seen above in 2012, was built in a protected natural park with the complicity of local authorities in Carboneras, Almería, Spain. Popular activism and pressure from Greenpeace stopped the project, but it has not been demolished despite a decade of legal activity. Many city residents would rather keep the hotel for tourism income.

Carlos Spottorno

CARINI, SICILA, ITALY - OCTOBER 24, 2010: garbage accumulated on a street corner because of a strike of the company that collects it. They are not paid by the city council, which is always short of resourses. Also, there are suspictions of  the Mafia being involved in the recycling business, creating situations difficult to handle by both citizens and authorities. Photo by Carlos Spottorno / Getty Images
Garbage accumulates on a street corner in Carini, Sicily, in 2010. The company that collects it was on strike because they were not being paid by the city government. In addition, suspicions of Mafia involvement in the recycling business created a difficult situation for both citizens and authorities.

Carlos Spottorno

ATHENS, GREECE - MAY 06 2012:  people walking at the flea market. Inside a garbage container, a homeless man looks for any useful thing to take . After years of deep economic crisis, enduring hard austerity measures, and with no clear future in the horizon, Greece has become a poor country, and in 2012 there were loud talks about the pertinence of its permanence in the euro zone. Photo by Carlos Spottorno / Getty Images
People explore a flea market in Athens, Greece, in 2012 as a homeless man looks for useful objects inside a garbage container. Greece has seen years of deep economic crisis, hard austerity measures, and no clear future stability, all of which have brought on talks about its permanence in the eurozone.

Carlos Spottorno

A man sleeps under the attentive observation of his ducks in Naxos, Greece, in 2013.
A man sleeps under the attentive observation of his ducks in Naxos, Greece, in 2013.

Carlos Spottorno

A guard stands at the entrance of the National Palace of Sintra in Sintra, Portugal, in 2013.
A guard stands at the entrance of the National Palace of Sintra in Sintra, Portugal, in 2013.

Carlos Spottorno

A tile painting in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2013 says “Holy Europe of Hope” with euro symbols.
A tile painting in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2013 says “Holy Europe of Hope” with euro symbols and the European Union flag. Tile painting is one of the most unique crafts from Portugal.

Carlos Spottorno

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