Portraits of: Barcelona

There are many forms of travel. Some may travel for work, some to get away, some to learn more about the world. For some, it may very well be their livelihood or life. Yet travelling by its very definition connotes movement; a journey where we are transient visitors. In those short visits, how much can we really learn about a city? How much of the architecture, history, culture, customs and people can we be exposed to and discover?

I was in Barcelona for a little over a month to take a TESOL course which would certify me as a globally accredited English speaker and teacher. Indeed, a month is minute, and I was determined to not waste this time. I wanted to learn as much as I could about this city beyond its more famous aspects: Gaudi’s architecture, Picasso and Dali, sunny beaches, crazy partying, etc. The quieter everyday moments can say more about a city and its occupants as intricate details of their lives.

At the same time, it was a personal challenge to choose a very blatant approach to documentation – instead of being a mere observing photographer, I sought to take portraits of people and learn a little more about who I was photographing. This necessitated approaching complete strangers with a sheepish smile and a printed write-up and my “interview” questions, translated into Spanish. Sure, I got rejected, but more often than not (and to my surprise), they would reply with a smile/shrug and “sure, why not?”.

Thankfully, some of them could speak English though they still preferred to answer the questions in Spanish. It allowed me to speak with them and know more about themselves and their answers. Many of them told me the questions asked were not easy ones but all of them loved answering them. Each encounter was to me a magical moment, a precious window into the millions of rooms and home in Spain, and it was all I hoped for to do them justice in what I captured in film.

Two things struck me in those few days.

Firstly, many of them dare to, and didn’t even hesitate to express their desire to be happy. Growing up in an environment where achievements and hard work are emphasised, it seems unnatural and perhaps even wrong to outwardly show that I want to be happy. Instead, I should be “suffering” because it means I’m “working hard” – as much as I know working hard doesn’t, and shouldn’t, equate to suffering. But. Yet.

Secondly, no matter what these people dislike about Barcelona, they want to change it. They wish to participate in making things better. Simply, they love Barcelona. They love their city.

And I thought, what about my own nation? How will Singaporeans answer these questions? Will they dare to want to be happy? Do they want to make the bad things better instead of leaving?

And so, I’m going to roam the streets of Singapore and do the same as I did: with an open heart, sheepish smile and my trusty OM-10. If you happen to meet me, do say hi. And meanwhile, enjoy these Portraits of Barcelona and wait for those from Singapore.

Advertisements

Portraits of: Barcelona

BCN13_7_027                                                                       Barcelona, 2013 (Fuji Neopan 400)

Alejandra was brought up in Chile but has been living in Barcelona for the past 10 years. She speaks a thousand miles a minute, translating much of the Spanish language and quirks into English, but always listens to what others say. She taught me things that were simple yet profound – for example, whilst many of us may naturally shun touters on streets, she never ignores them because to her, they are human beings who deserve the basic form of respect; an acknowledgement of their existence by telling them “no, thank you” no matter what they were trying to sell/do.

I hope this picture captures the fire of her spirit, a fire to enjoy life to the fullest and be true to herself…and love.

Alejandra_Eng

Name:
Alejandra

And your dream?
To be happy and try not to hurt anyone

The best thing that has happened to you?
Travel

One thing you would like to change? (It can be about anything)
That everyone did what they wanted (with respect) and no judgements.

One thing you don’t want to change? (It can be about anything)
Healthy food.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
Working to be happy with nice people around.

Favorite things about Barcelona?
Diversity, culture

Things you don’t really like about Barcelona?
Drunk tourist that don’t respect the city

Portraits of: Barcelona

BCN13_4_33 - Version 2

Jordi came up to me, intrigued by the OM-10 SLR I was using. He picked up English while working as a tour guide, and now works as a physiotherapist for children. He feels like a fellow traveller, and I believe it is this curiosity and open heart that will allow us to see the beauty in things no matter where we are and live.

Thanks to him, I got to know of the Gay Pride Festival that was happening that evening – at the very place I was moving into that day!

Jordi_Eng_BW

Name:
Jordi

And your dream?
to be myself

The best thing that has happened to you?
to meet interesting people
(To love someone)

One thing you would like to change? (It can be about anything)
There are too many things. Hard to pick up one.
Poverty

One thing you don’t want to change? (It can be about anything)
My delicious breakfast.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
No idea

Favorite things about Barcelona?
Climate, cosmopolitan city

Things you don’t really like about Barcelona?
The prices of the flats, too expensive

 

Portraits of: Barcelona

BCN13_9_035                                                                       Barcelona, 2013 (Fuji Neopan 400)

Noemi was sitting at a tiny flight of steps round a corner in Barri Gòtic, playing a ukelele and singing. It was her last day working and staying at the heart of the city, and she would be returning to her hometown about 30-40km away the next day. Her ideal life would be to be a volunteer, singing and writing poetry while helping those in need.

Her voice was keening and sweet, and made me think of lovebirds that sweep the horizon as I stare out the window, or the feeling of leaving a place you can’t bear to leave to another place you can’t bear to be apart from.

Noemi_Spanish copy

Name:
Noemi

And your dream?
I would love to work doing the hobbies I like, so I can feel free

The best thing that has happened to you?
Born / Travel to Asia

One thing you would like to change? (It can be about anything)
I would like that people would be more expressive in love and appreciate the humanistic sides more than the materialistic things

One thing you don’t want to change? (It can be about anything)
My mother, I would like to have her always near.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
I see myself abroad, working

Favorite things about Barcelona?
Gothic district, the beach so close and people so different and the art in the street.

Things you don’t really like about Barcelona?
Too many people and the pollution.

Portraits of: Barcelona

BCN13_7_030                                                                       Barcelona, 2013 (Fuji Neopan 400)

I was at the beach with Mhairi one day, and immigrants regularly passed by with cans of beers and prepared icy mojitos for sale under the blazing sky. She told me about how these beer cans would be hidden in drains and unhygienic areas pre-sale. Yet after we watched a lounging English man attempt but fail to get a beer as he didn’t have small change, Mhairi only wanted to run after the immigrant with smaller notes so he could have sufficient change to make a sale.

Throughout the short time I knew Mhairi, her kindness and generosity towards everyone, including total strangers, shone through her small quiet acts. Honestly, Mhairi made me feel pretty ashamed of myself.  I thought of the times that as a teenager always gave away whatever I had in my wallet to the people on the streets selling ‘charity tickets’ – until I found out that the business of it can be dubious and not necessarily totally for charity. Still, it’s no excuse that now I do not even stop to listen to them or even shun them as I walk. Do you do the same now?

Faith, trust, belief, why should these qualities be shaved away when we grow up? Even a genuine smile can make someone’s day.

Mhairi_Eng

Portraits of: Barcelona

BCN13_3_016 - Version 2                                                                       Barcelona, 2013 (Fuji Neopan 400)

Juanjo taught me how his name ‘Juanjo’ is actually a combination of his first name and middle name (Juan José), only to be used by his friends. He insisted on me using it, and chose to call me what some of my friends back here would call me – ‘Lim’ – rather than Alexa, the name I used in Barcelona. Because we are friends.

Also, he started replying in Spanish in our emails, so that I could pick up Spanish through our exchanges.

Juanjo_Spanish

Name:
JuanJo

And your dream?
Be happy

The best thing that has happened to you?
Get married and have a child.

One thing you would like to change? (It can be about anything)
The inequality.

One thing you don’t want to change? (It can be about anything)
Love.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
Here with my family.

Favorite things about Barcelona?
Eixample district.

Things you don’t really like about Barcelona?
Some dirty streets.