Where the city changes its name (2006)
Catalog introduction: Efímeros
Where the City Changes its Name was the title of a famous novel by the Valencian author Paco Candel, resident in Barcelona, who was very popular a few decades ago. In the novel, with its typical social point of view, Candel described how life on the edge of the city played out for new arrivals from the countryside or those pushed out of the city centres by economic pressures, at the halfway point between two worlds, the rural and the suburban, with little hope of improvement. The novel sprang to mind as I looked at the photographs of Jose Guerrero, a young photographer from Granada, who also directs his gaze at the same subject, though Guerrero does so more from an aesthetic perspective. Unlike Candel's work whose style is determined by a moment in history (Barcelona in the 1950s) which in turn dictates its ideology, the aesthetic qualities come before everything else in Guerrero's photographs and, nevertheless, allow a certain critical vision to emerge. Because looking at those landscapes, those scattered or abandoned objects, those broken buildings, in ruins or only half-built, that surround our cities separating them from the open countryside, besides the aesthetic emotion that his composition and use of light produce, lies the same sense of unease and discomfort that the descriptions in Candel's novel produced.
So unease and discomfort are the first two reactions, beyond their artistic value, that Jose Guerrero’s photographs provoke. A discomfort that comes as much from what they represent conceptually as from the temporary character of these landscapes that contrasts with a wider inertia. And the thing is, that while landscapes as a concept are per se somewhat untouchable (particularly when they are 'eternalised' in a photographic image), the landscapes in these photographs suggest the exact opposite: the fleetingness of the world, the temporary nature of everything, the permanent movement of our lives and of the cities and places that we inhabit. Because if there’s one thing that characterises our cities, beyond their concrete lay-out or their urban and social characteristics, it’s the temporary nature of their boundaries, their very lack of boundaries you could almost say. And the thing is, as it creates its boundaries the city goes beyond and absorbs them, establishing new ones which it in turn goes on to absorb. And thus indefinitely, as if we were dealing with a tumour or that idea my fellow countryman Antonio Pereira came up with in one of his stories of the infinite: that can of condensed milk that shows on its label a picture of a boy holding between his hands the same can of condensed milk that shows on its label a picture of a boy holding between his hands the same can of condensed milk, etc. So it turns out that regardless of whether you use a magnifying glass or long-range telescope to find it, this is infinity: that which never ends.
Just like the present, which turns into the past in the same instant it materialises, the boundaries of cities cease to be boundaries at the very moment they are created. This is their nature and condition. Because cities, like people, never stop changing, unlike countries or laws, that can remain unchanging for years, even centuries and millenniums. So, if change is the very nature of the city, if its actual condition forces it to keep growing and changing continuously (or to diminish in some cases), its boundaries and borders are unlikely to be defined, however much one might want them to be.
Fleetingness overlaid on fleetingness is, then, the raw material with which Jose Guerrero works, at least in this collection. The fleetingness of time, which is the ultimate goal of photography (for what is photography but the weak human's superhuman attempt to freeze time, tormented as he is by its fleetingness?), is superimposed in this work on buildings and landscapes that practically disappear before the lens. Those derelict buildings, plots that are empty or filled with dead objects, those grey perspectives that threaten the cranes, and roads everywhere that serve only to underline the fleetingness of all things and the temporary nature of a world which disappears as it changes and does so at full speed. The false inertia of these images and the dubious eternal status that Jose Guerrero grants them as he freezes the moment in these pictures are, like all other photographs, nothing more than a fragile mirage that is proved here to be all the more false each time the inconsistent nature of the subject matter comes into view. Panta rei states the author, citing Heracles and with the faith that both are right, as was Paco Candel when he spoke of the city that lost its name, although Candel did so for other reasons.
And, now, to conclude, why not quote, within sight of these photographs of the young Jose Guerrero, the concept that the philosopher Eugenio Trias developed in an essay (The beautiful and the sinister, Editorial Seix Barral) from two ideas from two German Romantics: "Beauty's nothing but the start of terror which we are barely able to endure" (Rilke) and "The uncanny is something which ought to have remained hidden but which is brought to light" (Schelling).