Shades Of Grey
Photographer Lluc Queralt Baiges on what he's learned from photographing cultures around the world.
Shades of grey
interview with LLUC QUERALT BAIGES by OLA KOHUT
OCT 2016 // Lluc Queralt Baiges is a documentary photographer and painter from Tarragona, a historical port city in the autonomous region of Catalonia, Spain. For decades he's photographed rarely-covered groups around the world, from Mennonite communities in Bolivia to travelers on the Trans-Mongolian Railway. Here Lluc talks with Ola Kohut about globalization, the power of black and white, and the importance of coming back home.
Tell me about your story. How did you become an artist and a traveller?
When I was 12 years old, I started traveling around Spain for skateboarding, first to Barcelona and later to more distant cities. In 1997 I took my skateboard and my camera and went to London, where I stayed in a squat. That’s where I was introduced to painting for the first time. After that I began traveling to further and further countries that captured my inspiration. I felt the need to see new spaces, learn about other cultures, experience things I never had in daily life. For decades I’ve been traveling to new locations and exploring them through photography.
How has traveling formed your identity, aesthetics and philosophy?
I think that while traveling you nourish yourself from what you see. You learn about your surroundings and you deepen your understanding. But it is equally important to return home to rest, reconsider everything you've learned, and appreciate what you have at home. My art has always been influenced by the interplay of these two things.
After years of traveling, you have a newfound interest in your hometown. Where does that come from?
Tarragona used to be a major city of the Roman Empire, a base of Emperor Augustus. I live in a historic district of Tarragona and its history stretches thousands of years, to the Roman times. I often saw tourists photographing the elements of my everyday life—the ancient Roman remains, the city walls, the amphitheater, the Roman circus, even the square in front of my house—and I used to overlook all of that.
But now my home has a big influence on the way I create. My house is a historical space and five generations of my family have lived in these walls. I realized that it has always been my base camp, the place where I come back to think and realize new projects. And now I’m realizing that there are a variety of themes and interesting images here. I don’t need to travel far away from home to take good pictures. I’m trying to rediscover the city with new eyes, as if I had never seen it before.
Do you observe any surprising similarities in different cultures that you encounter while traveling?
Each region I visit has very different culture and customs, but I do notice that globalization permeates almost all cultures around the world. What I enjoy the most in my work is documenting the cultures most removed from globalization and consumerism, like remote, isolated tribes or those where a religious doctrine prevents much change in daily life, like with the Mennonites in Bolivia.
What do you find interesting in those cultures in particular?
They allow me to travel twice, in both place and time, and I’m able to see from a new perspective, as if I was living in a past with some elements of the present. There are large differences between different groups of people—our cultural roots and what we learn to be true can separate us—but at the same time we are all the same, we are simply all people.
Your affinity for the black and white film makes many of your photographs appear suspended in time. Is that intentional?
Yes. Even though I find photography 100% subjective, I enjoy presenting the objects in an atemporal space, one that seems suspended in time, that has no expiration date. Black and white photography helps me to reinforce that and gives my photographs a touch of nostalgia.
How do you develop the themes of your work?
It depends. Sometimes it’s spontaneous, when something catches my eye, like reflections in the puddles of water. Other times it’s of a more thought-out process, like my series on cloistered nuns and monks in Tarragona, which connects to the theme of cultures disconnected from globalization that I mentioned earlier.
Is that your most recent series?
Yes, I just finished that series. But I usually work on multiple things simultaneously. Recently I’ve been working on a series of 30 large-format paintings that touch on the theme of war.
How do you see your role in your local community in Tarragona?
I see myself as one of the people in my city that can open the window to the rest of the world a little more, bring a little more light to the retinas of people who are already curious. In my documentary work, I can open their eyes to what they couldn’t see otherwise, like life inside a monastery or in a refugee camp in Syria. And personally, if my work is able to contribute a grain of sand to someone’s journey and inspire them to take on photography, then that’s great. ✰