Where are we now? In barespagnol by Pablo Casino!

Valencia based photographer Pablo Casino went in 2013 to Brussels to document the local community of retired migrants from Spain.  In 2016 he self-published this work in the form of a small but solid photobook and judging by its title, he does not let us doubt about where the community’s heart is beating. It is beating in the “barespagnol“.


© Pablo Casino

The spiral binding of the book invites us to go through the pages over and over, allowing us to recognize here and there a guy that is shown more than once, allowing us to acquaint ourselves too with the particularities of this Spanish microcosm in Belgium’s only big city.


© Pablo Casino

We immediately get the feeling that the heart of the community is beating rather slowly today. The book is showing us a number of businesses that are completely worn-out: the walls have never been repainted, letters on the façade have come down, curtains are not opened any more in the morning.


© Pablo Casino

It is made clear that the dough is not to be found in these pubs, has never been there. But it is also clear that there is something else and that is what Mr. Casino ‘s book is about! Barespagnol is about regulars sitting at their personal table and eating whatever traditional dish the owner’s lady will serve them (again). It is about living this special condition of being an émigré, a condition where “when I go home” or “when I was a child” have unfathomable meanings to the outsider. And it is about living this special condition – silently-  together with only those who can understand: the compañeros, the community.


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© Pablo Casino

During the fifties and sixties of the last century, more than 30.000 Spaniards had embarked on trains that would bring them from the hilly, chilly and wet Spanish province of Asturias to the Brussels railway station “Gare du Midi“, that legendary terminus for so many migrants from the South.


© Pablo Casino

Some of the Asturians were young peasants, who were made (economically speaking) redundant by the introduction of agricultural machinery; others were merely on the run for the Franco authoritarianism. For the Belgian mining consortiums, this distinction did not really matter: as long as they were happy to risk their lives underground.

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© Pablo Casino

After Franco’s death (1975), many Spaniards took the train back home, implying that they had been real refugees. But many others opted to continue their tough job in the mines to support their children born in Belgium.

And how are they doing now, after they have since long reached the age of retirement? Barespagnol sheds a light on a section of society that has never been put in the spotlight. And it is to be feared that many of these ex-workers quiet literally, have bitten the dust. They seem to be as worn-out as the sidreria‘s where they spend the day (the metonymy of the worn-out pub works perfectly), sometimes alone or waiting for a friend who might come by.


© Pablo Casino

They are sitting in the “Picos de Europa” close to the same Gare du Midi where they have arrived half a century ago. It’s ten in the morning and they order a first cerveza. They take a first sip from it and they enjoy the alleviating effect in the mind. They can start a new day trying to remember what they are trying to forget. They know that far away from Brussels, in the hilly and chilly Picos de Europa of Asturias, “their old world has rapidly changed, the losers have eventually won, the past order has ultimately faded, the slow ones have become fast.”

But don’t let me be misunderstood. The fellows that we are seeing don’t seem to be broken or unhappy at all. Throughout the book, you can feel the warm bond that they share with each other; that bond that helps them to protect a kind of happiness deep down inside against all those who are indifferent to their merits and plight.

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© Pablo Casino

The narrative of the book also consists of some really beautiful and well chosen excerpts from literary texts by Julián Ayesta, Julia Faure and Ángel Álvarez. The last excerpt for instance is gradually growing on you while you are turning the pages.  It’s an observation about the color of the smoke that is changing according to the sunlight. Until the moment of its disappearance. Again the image is working perfectly. It reminds us of that one certainty we all share in the big city (foreigners and locals alike) and it allows us to read Barespagnol as a powerful memento mori. And isn’t it that a quality shared by all great works of photography?


© Pablo Casino


Thank you very much, Mr. Casino!











A conversation with Carl De Keyzer about India.

When it was published back in 1987, India became an immediate and gigantic succes. It has sold not less than 8.000 copies and  many still regard it as Carl De Keyzer’s best book because of the aestheticizing flash techniques and of the relaxed mood in the pictures. In this post, we are going back with the photographer to 1987 to learn from him how the book was originally created and received. Today he disagrees that his book is his best one but he confirms that it helped him to catch the attention of the legendary Magnum Agency and that it layed the foundation for an impressive series of (till date) 16 other photobooks. So, it is safe to qualify the book as a milestone in the history of Belgian photography.

The story of India started in Arles where young Carl De Keyzer showed to Dutch publisher Dirk van der Spek his little, black Ambassador wading through the monsoons.

India. Bombay. © Carl De Keyzer - MAGNUM Book "India" 1987. 1985.

© Carl De Keyzer, courtesy Magnum Photos

At that moment De Keyzer had already spent two summers on the subcontinent sleeping in shabby motels, travelling in crowdy third class wagons, tirelessly waiting to make those two or three precious images per week. Van der Spek promised to publish a book on the condition that De Keyzer would return one more time. Thus, young De Keyzer who was teacher in Ghent in those days, returned one more time during the next summer break. With a kind of reluctance though, because inevitably there would be monsoon season again!


© Carl De Keyzer, courtesy Magnum Photos

But today, the photographer realizes that this was the way how he has learned to finish off a project. As for his famous flash technique, he claims that the use of his old and powerful Metz was rather a necessity than a deliberate choice to aestheticize. “The Indians were all the time taking refuge from the blazing summer heat in the shadow. Without my flash they would have remained invisible. I had to develop a technique by which I could both show what happened in the daylight and unveil what remained hidden in the world of the shadows.”


© Carl De Keyzer, courtesy Magnum Photos

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© Carl De Keyzer, courtesy Magnum Photos

After his return Van der Spek kept his promise and the Ambassador (and its passengers) would famously become the cover of the book. But Van der Spek had done the selection and sequencing of the pictures without much consultation. It makes De Keyzer smile today but he admits that he never was very happy with the result. Especially van der Speks introduction that coined the book as a positive, joyful testimony of India leaves the photographer with ambivalent feelings.

Dirk van der Spek: “Laughing people in the land of Nehru and Gandhi, the land of cultural conflict between Hindus and Muslims, Sikhs, Biharis and Bengalis. The land that is also notorious for its gigantic natural and environmental disasters. Ostensibly it seems as if the people cheerfully accept these problems.

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© Carl De Keyzer, courtesy Magnum Photos

India. Bombay. Beach laundry. © Carl De Keyzer - MAGNUM Book "India" 1987. 1985.

© Carl De Keyzer, courtesy Magnum Photos

According to the photographer, it was not at all his ambition to create a positive image of India in the book.  On the contrary, he wanted to show “the back side of the postcard images” that only show the Taj Mahal, the nice beaches and the beautiful saris. The photographer also states that Indian critics were not pleased at all. They could not understand why a photographer had to show someone repairing his bike in a river (“Is that being modern?“) or a shopkeeper helplessly lying in his inundated business (“Do they like it in Belgium when their shops are flooded?“).

India. Calcutta. Howrah bridge © Carl De Keyzer - Magnum 1986.

© Carl De Keyzer, courtesy Magnum Photos

India. Benares. © Carl De Keyzer - Magnum 1986. Book India "1987".

© Carl De Keyzer, courtesy Magnum Photos

But, recalling his days in India, De Keyzer also agrees that he had been too easily charmed by the never ending stream of children that came up greeting him all the time and by the Indians in general who still took a keen interest in him as a foreigner. “Maybe I have been a little bit naive in the way I have portrayed them. Maybe the book contains a neo-colonial point of view. After all, westerners like this way to look at the third world.India would teach the photographer a good lesson.  In his later books, he would become more critical for himself, his public and his subjects. He would not be the one trick poney photographer with a daylight flash. He would elaborate his subject much more profoundly, he would become a sharp critic of contemporary politics and society.

Despite De Keyzer’s afterthoughts, the book remains a real pearl! When I  am leafing through the pages, Carlo Levi‘s account of his travels in India in the 1950’ies are coming to my mind: “At every step, a thousand apparitions surge toward us until, in the narrow lanes of the marketplace, as if all the veils had been pulled aside, we see a world that is so real that it seems as if words can scarcely keep up with the sight, stuttering, filled with wonder.

India. Agra. Taj Mahal. © Carl De Keyzer - MAGNUM Book "India" 1987.

© Carl De Keyzer, courtesy Magnum Photos

In De Keyzer’s book, we can see the same pre-globalized or even pre-modern India that Levi witnessed when he stepped out his car: “Hordes of children come towards us, along with dappled cows and enormous black water buffaloes….an ancient enchantment, a sort of incomprehensible, earthly magic, seems to envelop us suddenly, along with the mysterious silence of a remote era…..But also a transition is going on there, from one era to another, from the most primitive tribal coexistence, from the most retrograde feudalism to full participation in modern history.” (C. Levi, Essays on India)

India. Benares. © Carl De Keyzer - Magnum 1986.

© Carl De Keyzer, courtesy Magnum Photos

For sure, the book beautifully displays De Keyzer’s timeless look at the world. There are no explicit references the 1980’ies visible. Naturally, time has played its intriguing role, and De Keyzer becomes a little bit nostalgic when he looks at his book. India did undergo an irreversible transition. “In the 1980’ies, Coca-Cola was still forbidden. On the billboards you only saw religious effigies or Bollywood stars.” India of the 1980’ies has disappeared for good.

India. Madras. © Carl De Keyzer - Magnum. 1987. Book "India" 1987. 1987.

© Carl De Keyzer, courtesy Magnum Photos


© Carl De Keyzer, courtesy Magnum Photos

But not in his wonderful book. Thank you for this Mr. De Keyzer!












reporting on the art of the photobook