In 2011, photographer Juan Aballe‘s closest friends began moving from their homes in Madrid, Spain’s capital city, to the nearby countryside. Some left in search of a quieter, simpler life and some because of a lack of opportunities due to the ongoing economic crisis. The move shocked Aballe, who began contemplating whether he too should leave the city and its comforts for a long deserted rural Spain.
It seems Aballe’s friends were not alone. After decades of Spaniards abandoning the countryside for better opportunities in the cities, the population flow has reversed. With no jobs in the cities and a cheaper cost of living, the countryside has become attractive. According to Spain’s census, the number of people living in population centres with less than 100 people has increased 13 per cent in the last ten years and more people have relocated from cities to towns in the past fifteen years than the other way around.
Aballe began photographing rural areas of the country, sometimes while visiting relocated friends and other times exploring the many alternate communities of young Spaniards that have cropped up. His goal was less to document a historical moment and more to capture the idealised rural lifestyle that his friends wanted to believe in.
Aballe shared some photos from his project, aptly titled “Country Fictions”, with us here, but the work is now available in a book, which is available at Fuego Books.
Aballe began the project by visiting his friends for several days at a time. Many of Aballe’s friends moved into the Pyrenees, a mountain range in the north of Spain that forms the border with France. It is one of the least populated areas in Spain.
Eventually, he was introduced to a small settlement of about ten people, where he stayed for ten days. To get to the settlement, Aballe had to drive on a country road for thirty minutes before getting onto an unpaved path. The settlement is only accessibly by four-wheel-drive vehicles.
When Aballe arrived, he found a settlement made up of many make-shift living arrangements.
Aballe had a few friends in the settlement and quickly made more. A Swiss man Aballe met named Ur let him photograph inside his cabin. Below, you can see his bedroom.
Because many of the people Aballe’s photographed are his friends or people he was introduced to by friends, Aballe sees the project as very personal.
Part of what Aballe was trying to capture was the hard-working, simple life that he believes we all imagine when we think of rural locations.
Part of that vision is an idealization of agriculture and nature triumphing over technology. Here, you can see olive trees and a crushed industrial tank in La Mancha, a traditional agriculture region in central Spain.
This is in Castillejo de Robledo in the northwestern province of Castile and León, another area of rural Spain that is seeing a resurgence.
Even with an increase in population, these areas can still be desolate and sparse. The empty nature of the countryside and its limited options for food or human contact was a main point of concern for Aballe. Here, you can see a lone restaurant in La Mancha.
The tiny town of Collado Hermoso is also in Castile and León and has seen an influx of people from urban areas. There are 154 residents in the town, as well as a few horses like the one below.
This is in the Sierra Norte Nature Park in Andalucia in southern Spain. In the end, Aballe opted not to follow his friends in moving to the country, less because of the physical isolation than the difficulty in being in close quarters with so few people.
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