Ben Roberts-The Gathering Clouds

"In September 2007, I flew out to Granada in Spain. My intention was to take a week’s break after a busy summer in London. I had spent time in the city eight years previously when my sister was living there as a foreign student, and was looking forward to a week of sightseeing and tapas.

However, as I looked out of the bus window on the journey from the airport to the city, I saw a landscape that had changed drastically in the period since I had last visited. The city had exploded beyond the confines of its motorway ring road, and new housing developments were appearing on the fields and mountainsides surrounding Granada.

Spain was in what turned out to be the final throes of a huge economic and construction boom. Fuelled by consumer confidence, EU investment and an aggressive tourist industry, Spain’s property developers had changed the physical and social landscape of the countries suburban spaces. In that first week, I began to document this phenomenon. I returned to Spain 3 months later to photograph similar scenes in Catalunya.

At the time of my original visits, the writing was on the wall for the Spanish economy. A Greenpeace report from 2006 reported on 3 million planned new homes and 200,000 new hotel beds, in spite of a wane in the numbers of tourists visiting the country. By 2008, unemployment had risen to almost 15% nationwide, and uptake for new houses was diminishing. From being one of Europe’s powerhouses, Spain was standing on the precipice of an economic collapse.

Funded by a BJP/Nikon bursary, I was able to return to Spain throughout 2009 to continue this body of work. An 18 month break in documenting this project had seen changes in both Spain’s outlook and in my development as a photographer. While Spain as a country is now in the grip of a deep recession, my approach to image making has become less literal. Instead of methodically researching locations and developing contacts, my approach has become more exploratory and incidental. My visits to Spain in 2009 have been based around long meandering walks through the urban fringes, with the routes only partially planned with the aid of online satellite views of the terrain.

The new work reflects a more personal experience of Spain. Away from the major tourist centres and coastal resorts, I found a landscape imbued with a strange mix of anxiety and tension, where the delineation between nature and city had become ambiguous. “The Gathering Clouds” contemplates Spain’s loss of direction, and my own disorientation in an unfamiliar and sometimes unnerving environment."