For Spanish photographer Cristina de Middel, spam emails are more than just a nuisance filtered out of your email inbox every day; they’re inspiration.
After seeing an open call for work at a photo gallery in 2008, de Middel — inspired by those phony email requests for money — saw an opportunity to venture outside of her usual sphere of documentary photography.
She began saving her spam emails and soon amassed a collection of over 1,000 of them. Mining outlandish stories of Russian widows and Nigerian lawyers, she imagined how these characters in distress appeared and set about creating for her “Poly Spam” series.
“I started collecting these emails because I realised they could reflect the state of things in the world … from a very interesting point of view,” de Middel told Business Insider.
The real challenge arose when de Middel had to imagine foreign people and places. “I knew what a lion in the Kalahari looked like … but I had no clue how judges, barristers, and bank employees looked,” she said.
De Middel also discovered that pairing the emails with her photos changed how people saw them. Some people who saw the series asked ask how de Middel found time to travel the world to find these characters. The implausible emails — and photographs made in the studio — suddenly became believable.
As the first non-documentary project she did, it marked the beginning of a long learning process. “I realised I was full of clichés and stereotypes about the world myself and this was a subject that needed to be addressed,” she says.
De Middel has shared the incredible images and accompanying email texts with us here.