Photography in Vigo

To continue my October Chronicles…

With pulpo under the belt (ha ha…), I took it upon myself to adventure beyond gustatory curiosities.  I was eager to begin my own photographic experience of Spain, the land beyond my bed in Hotel Nautico (below, ‘Morning Light’).

Stepping beyond the hotel entrance onto the old stone streets of central, port-side Vigo, I barely made it two blocks.  Hearing signs of sociality–voices and laughter far off–knew I wasn’t the first to take advantage of the afternoon sun.  I made my way towards the source of the sound through a short street and found myself in a plaza full of activity: skater punks big and small, clumps of teenage girls, elderly couples, toddlers, and parentals.

Still feeling the foreigner amidst the natives, I didn’t take my camera out right away.  Arriving in a new culture brings different norms, even regarding how and when to use a camera.  Cognizant of this, I was cautious at first, and didn’t immediately begin taking photos.  Figuring the skater-punks would be least phased by my presence, I made my way towards a series of stone steps adjacent to their activities.  Soon though, I was distracted by others: kids running in the grassy spit in the middle of the plaza (below, ‘Spaceship Boy’) and a few teenage boys sitting in front of a graffitied garage door.

Eventually I sat down on the edge of one of these grassy spits in the center of the plaza.   Characters moved in and out of my view.  With so much activity around me, I relaxed and let impulse drive where I directed my camera’s eye.  An elderly man moved into the frame with a young boy, presumably his grandson.  They were playing soccer, the boy a fearless goalie.  I took a few frames, recognizing the balance between these two and the adolescents behind.  Hours later I would realize one of those frames (below, ‘Looking Forward’) was one of the best images I’ve made to date.

Motivated by that day’s success, I’ve continued to make photos here in Vigo.  To no surprise, however, not all shoots are as serendipitous and successful as that first afternoon in the park.  I’ve been challenged by my surroundings.  The characteristics of a city–bustling pedestrians, gray thoroughfares, interpersonal indifference–challenge my impulse to take more personal portrait or lifestyle style photos.  Consequently, I’ve found myself experimenting more.  Instead of refining portraits and documenting familiar environments, I find myself wandering unfamiliar streets, shooting wider, and playing with colors and motion more than ever.  Here are a few examples.

Still, there are characters in the city that don’t mind being photographed.  While on a photographic jaunt through upper Vigo, my friend Raychel and I happened upon a great scene: a sanguine accordion player enjoying the last of October’s afternoon sunshine.  I almost let the scene go by, but the afternoon light convinced me otherwise.  Stepping aside, I took a few frames while pedestrians continued to pass between us.  A minute later, I tossed a coin in his donation box, still unsure that any of them turned out.  Not an hour later I realized the shots indeed turned out.  Together, they form a rather whimsical series (below, ‘Three-Four).

Through these experiences, I’m becoming more and more comfortable photographing my surroundings, including the people all around me.  I’m less concerned nothing will turn out, and I’m more confident that this creative exercise will be useful.  Without a doubt, the process is teaching me something; how I frame people within my photos reveals not only something of my subjects.  It also reveals secrets of my own, including what fears I have, and what I desire in a city full of strangers.

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the post first

Hello.

Though I’ve been in Vigo for nearly a month now, this is my first post.  Galicia is a notoriously rainy region of Spain, and after a month of sunny, 70 degree weather, the rain has arrived.  My roommates are out of the house, and I thought it a good opportunity to plug into my blog.  With headphones serenading my script with Iron & Wine, I’m looking out of my bedroom window, over my balcony, and into the small park behind my apartment building. Raindrops are bouncing off the balcony railway, and fall has arrived.

I myself arrived to Spain on the 27th of September.  I spent the subsequent 2 or 3 days in Madrid with Diego, a friend that I met through Joey.  There I made the first step into being a resident of Spain: I bought a spanish cell phone.  Best of all, it’s red.  I also found myself in a penthouse piso (apartment) drinking wine and eating olives and cheese surrounded by Europeans at 2 am on a Tuesday.  I felt pretty good.

I took the train to Vigo a few days later.  At 10pm, I stepped off the train and found Hotel Nautico a short walk from the train station.  I smelled the ocean.

The next day I dedicated myself to finding a piso.  After visiting three, I was concerned I wouldn’t find a reasonably priced and pleasantly designed space within the central neighborhoods of Vigo.  I took a break and called my school to arrange plans for my first day of work.

Inés, the school principal answered.  She was friendly.  Her family leases an apartment–her old home, as I learned–and there was a room open…

She picked me up from Plaza America, and minutes later I was in her old room, a pleasant, un-square-shaped room painted yellow with red and purple Dr. Seuss swirls accenting the framing around the window and doors.  Light was streaming in the window overlooking the balcony overlooking the park below.  I had found my home.

Over the next few weeks, I bought my first bags of groceries, met my first friends, and got lost trying to get back to my apartment.  Since then, I’ve learned that Vigo is hilly, that my apartment is a brisk 20 minute walk uphill from the center of town, and that most people don’t walk as fast as me.  Long story short, I usually meet my friends at their piso.

In my preparatory research of Vigo and Galicia in general, I learned early on that Pulpo (octopus) is traditional cuisine here.  Cut in small medallions, the octopus tentacles are served simply–potatoes, olive oil, and paprika accompany the fleshy coins, usually arranged on a circular, wooden slab.

One of my first evenings in Vigo I decided it was time to celebrate my arrival to my final destination.  I ventured toward La Piedra, the casco viejo or historic district of Vigo.  Climbing up hill through tortuous stone streets, I found a plaza or two amidst street level bars and cathedrals.  After an hour of exploration, I found a comfortable, unimposing restaurant nestled into the corner of one especially twisted street just off the main plaza.

With a few elderly people working behind the counter and a main room relatively empty compared to plaza-lining sites nearby, I felt comfortable walking in alone to eat my first ración of pulpo.  A fleetfooted cuban waitress around 35 years came bustling through the dining rom and informed me that a table in the courtyard behind would open up in a few minutes, in the case I was interested.  I decided to wait.  An hour later and after a glass of house made ribeiro (white wine endemic to Galicia) I sat down at my table amidst a courtyard packed with dinner parties–three spanish and a british.

Waiting for my pulpo, I had the banter of six spanish bachelors and a feisty cuban waitress to entertain me.  Finally the plate arrived.

Unlike chicken, beef, and pork, unlike crab, fish, lobster, and shrimp, the smooth, tender, paprika-dusted coins of mollusk hit my palate and I knew I had sealed a memory to stay with me for years.  I was smitten.

Sometime between entering and ordering my pulpo, I somehow won the favor of the waitress.  Extremely preoccupied, she nonetheless made sure that I was content and satisfied with my meal, passing me winks and a cheek-squeeze between her playful banter with the drunken bachelors.

As I payed my tab, she introduced me to the owners, the elderly couple that makes the wine in-house by the cask.  According to her, I was her most patient table to date.  Writing her cellphone number on the restaurant’s business card, she made me promise I’d return, and when I did, I would call her ahead of time so that she could prepare me a table.  She insisted that upon stepping in the door, I would receive instant and flawless service.

She was right. Two weeks later I returned with a friend.  A table in the courtyard, a bottle of ribeiro, a plate of pulpo, followed by tarta de Santiago and crema de orujo on the house (moist spanish cake and creme liquor like Baileys).  Needless to say, my friend Marianne was impressed.

More to come…