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Book Review: The Waiting Game


Book Review The Waiting Game By Txema Salvans Reviewed by Karen Jenkins As with those expectant protagonists in a spaghetti western, with their hot desolation and feigned control, for the players in Txema Salvans’ The Waiting Game, absolutely nothing is happening, until it is. The prostitutes who work along the stretches of isolated road and highway interchanges along Spain’s Mediterranean coast are depicted in the times in between; waiting for the car to pull over, the client to appear.

The Waiting Game. By Txema Salvans.
RM, 2014.
 
The Waiting Game
Reviewed by Karen Jenkins

The Waiting Game
Photographs by Txema Salvans
RM, 2014. 88 pp., 40 color illustrations, 13x9¾". 


As with those expectant protagonists in a spaghetti western, with their hot desolation and feigned control, for the players in Txema Salvans’ The Waiting Game, absolutely nothing is happening, until it is. The prostitutes who work along the stretches of isolated road and highway interchanges along Spain’s Mediterranean coast are depicted in the times in between; waiting for the car to pull over, the client to appear. Their practice is legal and not especially rare along these routes, finding its fraught place among other amenities of travel. Over the course of six years, Salvans hid in plain sight to create his thematic landscapes with their solitary embedded figures. Had he been in an urban setting, he might have more easily photographed these women unawares, but in the middle of nowhere, he assumed the disguise of a highway surveyor to earn their disregard. There’s nothing especially prurient or personal about these images, which are neither intimate social documentation nor portraits. We see little of the women’s faces in order to surmise their state of mind, and so must look to body language and the trappings of their work environment for some narrative or conceptual juice.

The Waiting Game. By Txema Salvans. RM, 2014.
The Waiting Game. By Txema Salvans. RM, 2014.

A voluptuous woman dressed to the nines passes over a slight folding chair, to settle into the arm of an abandoned couch. Another wearing no more than a thong and brassiere, straddles a straight back chair, gaze locked on the incoming lane. So many curbs and crash barriers are make-do lookouts and resting spots. Each riff on the requisite elements of bland highway and solitary attendant figure adds to a decidedly undramatic, broad daylight take on what usually swings more lurid, urban and late-night. In the photographs, the prostitutes’ choice of roadside chair and workplace attire drive part of the story — suggesting varying degrees of comfort, confidence and commitment. While these aspects have a certain collective punch (the women’s purses are oddly humanizing for me — a practical, personalized accessory that has no convenient resting place here), I’m still left struggling with what Salvans hopes this series will mean. His finely detailed, expertly crafted images have the formal remove of an objective study, but what about the messy human element, or the broader socio-political implications of this trade?

The Waiting Game. By Txema Salvans. RM, 2014.
The Waiting Game. By Txema Salvans. RM, 2014.

The two short essays that accompany the images offer some points of entry, but don’t ring entirely true. Martin Parr gives Salvans a general endorsement as an up and coming documentarian of the contemporary Spanish scene, while more enthusiastically congratulating him on the cleverness of his surveyor-photographer ruse. Journalist John Carlin writes that the prostitutes are “as much a part of the landscape for those of us who drive up and down the sunny highways of Spain’s Mediterranean coast as the petrol stations, the palm trees, the sea itself.” He then uses this familiarity as a springboard to psychological insight and compassion for their plight; musing on the pressures that brought them here, and how they might persevere in the face of uncertainty, vulnerability and fear. While I don’t presume Carlin’s words to be disingenuous, I nevertheless don’t quite see the photographs backing them up. The novelty of looking at prostitution as a waiting game doesn’t guarantee insight and I find this work doesn’t quite deliver enough heart or a committed stance to balance out Salvans’ cool reserve and formal even-handedness.—KAREN JENKINS

KAREN JENKINS earned a Master's degree in Art History, specializing in the History of Photography from the University of Arizona. She has held curatorial positions at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ and the Demuth Museum in Lancaster, PA. Most recently she helped to debut a new arts project, Art in the Open Philadelphia, that challenges contemporary artists to reimagine the tradition of creating works of art en plein air for the 21st century.

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