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Book Review: El Porqué De Las Naranjas


Book Review El Porqué De Las Naranjas By Ricardo Cases Reviewed by Colin Pantall A few years back, Spanish photographer Ricardo Cases was going through a difficult time. His mother and a best friend had died and Cases had, in his own words, become “a monster.” To get over his grief, anger and pain, he moved to the Spanish town of Valencia and started on a new photographic project, El Porqué de las Naranja, now available in book form courtesy of MACK.

El Porqué De Las Naranjas. By Ricardo Cases.
MACK, 2014.
We’re all off to Sunny Spain
A review by Colin Pantall

El Porqué De Las Naranjas
By Ricardo Cases
MACK, 2014. 128 pp., 67 color illustrations, 5¾x7¼".


A few years back, Spanish photographer Ricardo Cases was going through a difficult time. His mother and a best friend had died and Cases had, in his own words, become “a monster.” To get over his grief, anger and pain, he moved to the Spanish town of Valencia and started on a new photographic project, El Porqué de las Naranja, now available in book form courtesy of MACK.

It’s a smart book that announces its intention from the cover; an overexposed abstract picture of a palm tree linked to strange orange, yellow and green framework. The picture is stuck onto the white cover and the effect is quite disconcerting. Open the book and the strangeness continues.

The first thing you notice is the overexposed palate. These are pictures from Spain’s Mediterranean coast and the one-stop-over colors replicate the washed out blues, whites and greys of the summer’s midday sun. Then you start clicking into the major themes of the book; the washed out construction, the washed out trees, the washed out land and the washed out sea all set out against a washed out sky.

El Porqué De Las Naranjas. By Ricardo Cases. MACK, 2014.

Dotted throughout the book are occasional shots of oranges; resting in the wheel of a BMW, sitting on the branch of a tree or gathered together in a trough. The oranges (and the flames, the oranges’ elemental stand-in), together with tourism and construction are the symbols of the Levante, the coastal region around Cases’ home town of Valencia.

Spain doesn’t come off very well in the book though. The construction is shoddy and piecemeal. Behind the façade everything is falling to bits. Things are held together by pieces of string or planks of wood. Sometimes things are covered up or half-covered up; but you get the feeling that nobody can quite be bothered enough to cover things up all the way; such is the sense of incompleteness.

El Porqué De Las Naranjas. By Ricardo Cases. MACK, 2014.

It’s a book of coastal landscapes then, holiday landscapes that unite the past and the present histories of the region and join them into a depiction of a country in crisis, an economy in crisis and an environment in crisis.

Everything is in crisis because of two things. The first is the European Economic collapse that plunged the Spanish economy into a disastrous depression that continues to this day. The second is the legacy of breakneck tourist development in which resorts, hotels and apartment buildings were constructed with no thought to their surroundings, built onto the land rather than into it.

El Porqué De Las Naranjas. By Ricardo Cases. MACK, 2014.

Cases photographs these architectural impositions as though they are some kind of disease, as part of a landscape that is suppurating out the concrete invasion. Everything that is constructed is also decaying; paint peels, concrete cracks and stones shatter.

The palm trees do the same. Mediterranean palms are under attack from an infestation of red palm weevil so we see their leaves flaking and falling, we see naked stumps rising into that pale blue sky. Sometimes the trees are more surreal and they connect to the ramshackle make-do-and-mend quality of the Levante in economic crisis mode.

El Porqué De Las Naranjas. By Ricardo Cases. MACK, 2014.

Unlike Cases previous book, Paloma al Aire, El Porqué de las Naranja has a formal layout. Where Paloma al Aire used full-bleed pictures broken by the gutter (Cases says the photograph is ‘the victim of the book’), the pages of El Porqué de las Naranjas respectfully leave a generous border and a neighboring blank page for his pictures to stand out from. The book then is the victim of the photograph.

The book ends with a series of color sequences that call to mind the struggles of other countries. Is that red, green and yellow a reference to the flags of a whole bunch of African countries? Does the blue and yellow shell (of the kind that kills people) have something to do with Ukraine? Are those colored scraps of ground referencing the flag of Italy?

El Porqué De Las Naranjas. By Ricardo Cases. MACK, 2014.

It would be convenient if they are, because Cases’ book has conceptual similarities to Frederico Clavarino’s Italia O Italia. As with Clavarino’s book, El Porqué de las Naranjas uses architecture and landscape to deliver a political message. There are formalist elements in there, but they have a bite. It’s a surprisingly nasty one, using the obscure and offbeat to form an anti-tourism, anti-carpetbagging book that returns the Levante, violated and betrayed, back to the earth, dust, sand and soil from which it arose.—COLIN PANTALL

Selected as one of the Best Books of 2014 by:
Colin Pantall
Cristina de Middel

COLIN PANTALL is a UK-based writer and photographer. He is a contributing writer for the British Journal of Photography and a Senior Lecturer in Photography at the University of Wales, Newport. http://colinpantall.blogspot.com

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