Throughout the arid Almería countryside, patches of nightmarish red-painted forest (such as the below) are common. The water and retardant poured from the air to halt a blaze contained this vivid, blood-red pigment.
The region is bone-dry, and pine trees abundant: non-indigenous and mostly planted by man for hunting. Their roots absorb the scant subterranean moisture that should be going to crops, invading terrace systems and ruining age-old watering channels. Though, precipitation here is at an all-time low and so most of these channels no longer function anyway.
Almería contains the closest thing to a full desert Europe has – it’s described officially as a semi-desert – and the rest of the region is becoming increasingly susceptible to the same fate. Drive around the region, between towns and villages and you’ll pass hundreds of abandoned houses: from simple dwellings to farmhouses with acres of land, they’re each now left to the elements. There’s nothing here to keep families on the land: wells and reservoirs have gone dry and episodes of drought have become ever more frequent since the middle of last century, rendering the land unworkable, uninhabitable, unsellable.
We spoke to locals – elderly residents of rural villages – and were told of the wet springs of their childhoods, of snow in winter, of green (pine free) hillsides. In half a century, life in this region has changed dramatically. Almería currently endures over 80% of the year without rain, or chance of rain (that’s in a non-drought year).
Drought and inundation are both sides of the same coin, they come hand in hand with climate change. A warmer world means faster evaporation and ramps up the ability of our atmosphere to hold and transport moisture. This means dry areas of the world become even drier, while wet areas get wetter. When the rain does arrive it is increasingly likely to be torrential, in the form of a storm, causing flash flooding and stripping soil and nutrients from the land. It was lightning from one such storm that set this patch of hillside alight.
In 1960s Spain many farms and farmhouses were abandoned in the south of the country. The abandonment occurred for an accumulation of reasons: at the core of each lies the topic of water. The story remains the same today: life is hard in the Badlands (as named by the Almeriense) working unyielding, semi-arid terrain under unforgiving sun.
The following photographs seek to investigate: to capture and document traces, evidence of life. Just as Cass’s paintings are created upon surfaces which evidence their previous function (their previous lives) these photographs depict dormant spaces, spaces where lives were once led.