The Vernacular Landscape
When I started to work permanently as a photographer, I was wondering about what I should base my photographic works. There were so many choices that, in the beginning, I had difficulties to choose one or other type of photography. After many thoughts and check what kind of pictures I do, what my interests are, how I work and, a very important issue, how I am, I reach an answer: my work should talk about the landscape in a wider sense.
About "landscape" all we understand, and somehow is the most extended meaning, that is a picture of a natural place, a sunshine or sunset at the beach, something about trees and wild animals. So it is something like a natural place that could be painted by a painter. That conception comes from the artistic paintings and no one had the need to step out of that in order to define what is landscape and what not.
When you get into the meaning of landscape you soon realize that is something else that the universal concept of a pretty place or a pretty picture of a place. That's when I stopped with the term "vernacular landscape". What is that of "vernacular landscape"?
We can start defining what is "landscape". It is a term composed of two words: land and scape. Land, as we know, is a portion of soil. Scape is a bigger view of a natural scene. So "landscape" could be defined as a view of a certain land, certain physical territory. The people who put the names to the pictorial categories did not fool us: the landscape paintings are paintings of a territory.
And what is that of "vernacular"? It is a term mainly applicated to the own language of a region or to the local buildings of a region. So, we can say that "vernacular" could be that is the own things of a particular place, their own distinctive characteristics. They are the unique characteristics that come from this place and identify this place, whatever be or not physical things and that give a unique voice and identity in the world. There can be not only natural scenes, but there can also be cultural issues, traditions, ways of being, the typology of the buildings, etc. There are all that can give a unique identity to that place.
For these reasons we can say that we build the vernacular landscape. It is not in Nature, but are we, the human beings, who build it to use it in a community and to be different from other communities around. Is a demonstration of a unique identity. There always be powerful upper classes and there always be who impose to the landscape their own interests and aspirations that the common people take as their own. But the vernacular landscape goes further and as a transversal element in a society, the vernacular landscape is a mental construct, a perception of who lives in and see it. There are never two equal landscapes, as there are never two equal ways of seeing. We build the landscape through presences and absences, through experiences that talk to us about the importance of it in ourselves and the way we see and live it.
The vernacular landscape is our cities and villages, their typology of streets, their buildings; is the personal relationship with the other people who live there and with the environment; is the gastronomy, the parties and traditions; is the number of services available there, what you could or could not do there. The vernacular landscape goes further the physical. It goes to the emotional and to the own idiosyncrasy of the place. It goes to what is there, how is it and, above all, who live there and how they identify themselves through that landscape. The vernacular landscape where we live marks us even before born. Does not matter if we care or not. And there is their importance, because this landscape is ourselves as human beings, but mostly as a society. It identifies us to the rest of people.
It is not a strange thing that from the political and financial power the landscape is used for their own interests. Nowadays there is a big need to transmit a nice image to the others. Does not even matter if this image has or not any content, if it's real or not, but always it must be good and positive. So, the vernacular landscape becomes a stereotyped landscape, that is sold as a touristic object and as a touristic experience. They become a landscape to be seen but not to live in. If this is successful, a big part of the resident population will be fine with that and will try to use it in their own benefit, even they will be proud of that image of their landscape.
The importance of keeping alive the vernacular landscape of a territory is a big issue in this time of globalization and uniformity. In the end, we are what we live, we are the place where we live. And is something that we must continue keeping and building. In my own case, the thing of being Valencian is that I am Valencian, with all the good and bad things that come with it. And the thing of living in València is that I live in València. It is not better or worse than living elsewhere. Simply it is. And that identifies me thanks to the vernacular landscape around me, thanks to the material and immaterial culture, thanks to the ways of being of the people, thanks to the visible and invisible things.
One of my target as a photographer is to continue building that vernacular landscape around me. In fact, a big part of their build is through the image and of what steer of that: paintings, photography, illustration, literature, music, dance, sculpture, gastronomy, ceramics, ... and in the proper case of València, the Fallas, of course. As it can be seen, the building of the vernacular landscape is subjective, with all that have with it. And there is the point: that every one of us sees our own environment as we like. We are witness and transmitters. And all that views becomes our vernacular landscape in common.