Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain, through the eyes of the economists.

Reviews by The GuardianLe Monde, Financial Times and Ivory Press.  *   Shortlisted in Aperture Paris Photo Photobook Award 2013  *  WINNER OF THE KASSEL PHOOTOBOOK AWARD 2013  *    Time Magazine Best Photobooks list  *  British Journal of Photography / Martin Parr photobook list  *   Finalist RM Photobook Award   *   Finalist European Publishers Award 2013

Here are some facts, some opinions and some more or less educated guesses that you won't find in the book.

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  • PORTUGAL - 2011: a young gipsy holds his horse after cleaning it. It's always striking to see working horses in urban context. It's like different development ages coexisting in time. When I see this image, I can't help thinking about this painting by Picasso. In fact, some icons live long lives, and therefore coexist with their own future.

  • ITALY - 2011: abandoned buildings at Pizzo Sella.The buildings have been embargoed by the local Court for almost 2 decades, after a dispute between ambientalists and a local promoter. The story of the houses in Pizzo Sella, begins in 1978, when the Sicilcalce spa - a company close to the then boss of Cosa Nostra Michele Greco got 314 building permits. Someone gave the permits and got paid for them. A few took the money, while all the rest live with the skeletons on the hill.

  • GREECE - 2012: the church of Panaghia Kapnikaraia was built around 1.050 A.D. and it's one of the oldest in Athens. That circumstance doesn't seem to have stopped the long chain of people and institutions involved in the urbanistic plans to allow constructing a low quality, oversized office building a few meters from it. There are so many old treasures in Athens, that 1.000 years old stuff is old not enough to deserve protection.

  • SPAIN - 2007: a girl walks by a medieval castle-like semidetached row built in outskirts of Granada. During the construction boom lots of bizarre buildings mushroomed, as a result of the lack of urbanistic criteria, propelled by the local authorities ignorance, cheap credit and some developer's childhood traumas.

  • PORTUGAL - 2011: a woman cleans the front of her home, standing on a stair in a balcony with no railing, nor any security measure. It doesn't matter how poor may a house be; a southern european traditional woman will never let it look dirty. She will risk her life if that is necessary to get every inch of her house polished and shiny.

  • ITALY - 2010: ruins in the old part of town. During the american invasion in WWII nearly 40.000 people lost their homes. Instead of restoring them, the local politicians, together with the mafia capos planned a speculative plan that kept the old ruins from being rebuilt. Instead, thousands of new concrete blocks were built in all the Golden Valley, surrounding Palermo. The operation lasted until early 80's, and was called "Il sacco di Palermo". Today they are slowly restoring the Old part of Palermo, but living among the ruins has become some sort of lifestyle.

  • GREECE - 2012: homes made with containers close to the cargo area at the port. A woman walks with her shopping cart. Perama has always been a poor area, but at least, it had the shipyards. With the ship production almost zeroed, there is a real humanitarian crisis. When I see people living in containers I can't help thinking that according to the markets, regular people are simply some kind of disposable product.

  • SPAIN - 2009: there are 3,4 million empty homes in Spain in 2013, but it seems that they are still too expensive for everyone to buy one. According to The Economist, in 2013 the average spanish house price had lost around 27% since 2007, and it is expected to lose 16% more; then owners -a large majority- will become 42% poorer, while new buyers will soon have a mortgage too. It looks like one day everyone will have a chalet with a swimming pool.

  • PORTUGAL - 2013: Expo '98 was an official specialised World's Fair held in Lisbon. The theme of the fair was "The Oceans, a Heritage for the Future," chosen in part to commemorate 500 years of Portuguese discoveries. The Expo received around 11 million visitors, while 155 countries and organizations were represented. It was a total success, and the facilities built for the event are still in use today. For example, these two boys enjoying a stagnat water pool in a hot spring day.

  • ITALY - 2011: children walk by two burnt cars. The Z.E.N. (North Expansion Zone) is a suburb designed in the 70's to relocate families living in slums in the outskirts of Palermo. Designed by the world famous architect Vittorio Gregotti, the Z.E.N. became home of crooks and drug dealers, Instead of becoming the urban paradise they promised.  A few days before finishing the works, thousands occupied the whole neighborhood within a few hours. Again, complicity between the mafias and the local politicians (if there's any difference) seem to be the magic potion to ensure that things become as bad it gets.

  • GREECE - 2012: greek tourists enjoy the seashore under the remains of a restaurant and leisure center very close to Akronafplia Fortress. The decay of the luxurious facilities somehow chases away foreign tourists, while the locals reconquer their space, paying less attention to the relatively bad conditions of the site.

  • SPAIN - 2009: young men play mud-football. Football and getting dirt are two very fun things to put together. In addition it's cheap, so the town council can afford it. Not so long ago mid-sized towns in Spain would hire world famous pop and rock stars for their local festivities. A good example is the concert the Rolling Stones gave at the 70.000 people town of El Ejido in 2006.

  • PORTUGAL - 2011: in small towns, the kitchen is where most of the common life happens. Several generations live under the same roof, and neighbors are considered part of the family. When meeting a complete stranger, the first thing to do is to feed him. Eating and drinking is a crucial psychological test in southern european countries.

  • ITALY - 2010: a tiny multi-purpose shop called very optimistically "Chic market". I can't think of a better example of how southern european countries have this positive overblown self perception. A healthy self esteem is always welcomed, but sometimes a distorted view of one's reality can result into self-indulgence.

  • GREECE - 2012: people walking at the flea market. Inside a garbage container, a homeless man looks for any useful thing to take . After years of deep economic crisis, enduring hard austerity measures, and with no clear future in the horizon, Greece has become a poor country. On the left part of the image, a violent robot graffiti makes me think of how this crisis may be somehow the consequence of a hyper-technological life.

  • SPAIN - 2009: an abandoned car dealer shop with cars in it. The building, the court and one of the cars have apparently been abandoned for a long time, while the car on the right side seems to be operative. Coexistance between active life and ruins is an identity mark for countries used to pile layers of history for thousands of years.

  • PORTUGAL - 2013: the office of a renown artisan basketmaker's shop. They provide their products all around the world, and it looks like they keep using the old fashion accounting system, just the same way they make their products by hand. Even for old standards, this horizontal piling system is highly inefficient. This might prove that a company can be internationally competitive just by selling the right product to the right costumers.

  • ITALY - 2010: An obsolete surveillance station stands at the entrance of a baroque outstanding chapel inside of normand-style unique masterpiece Monreale cathedral. In Italy the enormous amount of cultural heritage is both a revenue source for the country, and a burden in terms of conservation and restauration. There are laws designed to protect the artistic heritage, but they clash often with the budgetary reality and political inefficiency.

  • GREECE - 2013: "hey, boss, where shall I put this 3.000 years old piece of column?" - "uh… I don't know, just put it there, behind the office, with the other ones." Hundreds of massive pieces of columns and other parts of the archaeological ruins at the Acropolis are piled here and there, around the restorers provisional offices. The weight of history is just too heavy for the southern european countries.

  • SPAIN - 2010: stuffed musk ox and bear decorate a hunting shop. Today hunting is an expensive and elitist activity, used often as a social occasion for making business and know influential people. Inviting someone to a big game hunt is a clear signal that we want to obtain something from them. Inviting to a hunt in the Canadian Arctic to shoot a musk ox may help the host get a contract to build a hospital.

  • PORTUGAL - 2011: a man waits for his lunch in a central little restaurant, not very far from the garbage containers. In societies, where family is the basic social structure, acting as a safety net for those left with nothing, people who don't have relatives fall often into depression, and are at risk of social exclusion. Being a lonely person in the southern european countries is always a very bad sign.

  • ITALY - 2010: Saro Spataro is a Sicily born Argentinian who has been unemployed for years. He was hit by the Argentinian economic crisis in 2001, so he moved to Spain. He lost everyithing in 2007 again, then he moved to Sicily to see if far parents could help. He sells "madonnine" at the side of the raod. He makes them with clay and black concrete, and states that he has invented this particular design that has been copied many times.

  • GREECE - 2013: while Isaac Newton sat under a tree thinking about scientific matters and discovered the laws of gravity, a greek philosopher simply took a nap under another tree, and woke up relaxed, ready for dinner. This is what came to my mind when I saw this man sleeping under the attentive observation of his ducks.

  • SPAIN - 2009: a man sleeps siesta in the street. Despite the widely spread stereotype of the lazy siesta-sleeper spaniards, and the very depressed context of the area, Algeciras harbor is increasing in container traffic, reaching 90 million tons in 2012, only 10% smaller that Hamburg, Rotterdam and Antwerp. Besides that, the man seems to be a heavy siesta sleeper, according to his perfect head position technique.

  • PORTUGAL - 2013: tiles painting is one of the most unique and world known crafts from Portugal. In this corner they used the traditional tile painting technique to write this message: "holy Europe of hope", and added many euro symbols also painted on tiles. Southern european countries are traditionally very europhiles. Thanks to the extreme austerity measures imposed by the so-called Troika, this feeling is quickly disappearing. Just like the tiles on the wall.

  • ITALY - 2010: two young men dragging a horse on their scooter. The horse is wearing a mask because it's going to run in a race close to a highway. In Central Palermo there is a number of horses that are supposedly used for tourist attractions, while the reality is that there is a millionare business of gambling at illegal races on asphalt.

  • GREECE - 2012: a muslim inmigrant prays in a street of an old industrial park close to a bus station. Since Greece is one of the main entrance doors to Europe for illegal inmigrants, there are many of them jobless, homeless, and without any social coverage. The crisis has increased xenophobic feelings among greeks. The streets are not safe for inmigrants, who tend to stay in non populated areas, and to avoid group prayers.

  • SPAIN - 2011: if slot machines and cigarette dispensers are for adult vices, toy-grabbing machines and chewing gum dispensers make sure the next generation will have the habit deeply rooted, so the business can keep going. Above all, a bullfight poster encourages violence against animals. In case you are not excited enough, an intense red wall will make sure you end up being. A very nice place to stop for a coffe on the road to the south.

  • PORTUGAL - 2011: a gipsy woman begs in front of a church. In the background tourists driving a triclIe ment for visiting the city's narrow streets. The economy crisis makes the poor poorer, while the tourists benefit from internal devaluation. And that, paradoxically, may be the only way to recovery as long as the Euro is still circulating.

  • ITALY - 2010: Corrado Valvo, Noto mayor, demonstrates in front of the City Council in Palermo to protest for the closing of Noto's hospital. He is surrounded by his city local police agents, who back him. In Italy It is not unusual to see politicians leading demonstrations wearing full dress uniform. The man speaking with two mobile phones while covering his mouth, and the gang looks are misleading: they are not the evil ones in this situation.

  • GREECE - 2013: abandoned villas skeletons spread on the cosatline. They have been there since 2008. Their story is already very familiar in all the mediterranean area: a promoter asked enormous credits to satrt building, but had to stop when the credit line was broken after the finacial tsunami created after Lehman Bros. failure. the whole credit system bursted, and now there's no way to get rid of the concrete carcasses. There isn't money even for demolishing them.

  • SPAIN - 2012: hotel "El Algarrobico" was built in a protected Natural Park with the complicity of local authorities. Popular activism and the pressure made by Greenpeace stopped the project, although after a decade of litigation, it has not yet been demolished. It's interesting, though, that many locals would like the hotel to start operating, and revitalize the poor local economy.

  • PORTUGAL - 2011: garbage in a nearly dry riverbed. This is not related to the economical downturn. This is simply about culture, or to be more specific, lack of culture. Lack of environmental awarness, pure and simple ignorance. There is no plan behind this. There is just people who think it's ok to throw a tire to a river. The sad thing here is that you can't even blame a corrupt politician. You can only witness stupidity and hope it will change some day.

  • ITALY - 2010: garbage piled on a street corner. The city council doesn't pay the contractor, so the contractor doesn't collect the garbage. In the meantime, neighbors keep throwing the garbage in the same corner. An intricate disfunction in which tax collection is inefficient, basic services can't be guaranteed, and in the end, nobody is happy. To make things more complicated, all this is linked to opaque mafia recycling businesses related to the EU directives.

  • GREECE - 2013: barely 2 Km away from the dream-like port of Naxos, there is this dump where anything from a fridge to a dozen rotten goats can be found. Sure, you have to do something with the garbage, but does it have to be simply piled on the beautifull soft cliffs to the sunset?. There must be a better way to deal with it.

  • SPAIN - 2009: Residencial Francisco Hernando was built in the early 2000's decade. This residential compound is now partially empty. Many low-middle class families bought one or two apartments on credit for speculating, and got trapped by the bubble burst. The banks own almost all the empty apartments, but they don't pay the service charges. The neighborhood is isolated and it was built very close to a tires dump.

  • PORTUGAL - 2013: a guard at the entrance of the National Palace of Sintra displays self confidence. and authority. In a culture where hierarchy is still pertinent , being the master of your own square meter is more relevant that one might think. Everyone tends to protect their own area of influence, as a very precious asset. As a photographer, I have experienced the capriciousness of security guards many times. This is my tribute to them.

  • ITALY - 2013: an advertising photo shooting in the Vucciria Street Market. A blonde sexy woman is a timeless cliché that seems to keep working through the years. At first I didn't notice it was a set up situation. It grabbed my attention, but it didn't seem impossible to be real. It took me a little to understand that she wasn't a real sexy-fishmonger. I never knew what was the shooting for.

  • GREECE - 2012: large areas of Athens are sistematically spraypainted, and never cleaned. The city council has no budget left for anything that is not strictly vital. It strikes me to see people devalue their own place under the aliby of self expression and a presumed art form. I wonder how happy is the woman in the picture to go through it every time she enters her home. Besides the economical damage, I also think this strident environment can't be too healthy for the soul.

  • SPAIN - 2011: a family has lunch at "Casa Pepe", a famous road restaurant where all decorations and products are related to the dictator Franciso Franco and other fascist figures. What started as a genuine tribute to the dictator, has become a folkloric-kitsch tourist attraction. It would be funny, if it wasn't for how many political and judicial forces have systematically blocked all the attempts of clarify responsibilities of the crimes commited during Franco 40 years regime.

  • PORTUGAL - 2011: a tourist poses holding King D. Sancho's hand at the entrance of Silve's medieval castle. Southern european countries use their rich and glorious past icons as a hook for tourists not very differently to the way a Disneyland park does. It makes me think of the banalisation of historic figures and of how the mid class has succesfully conquered the western world to some extent.

  • ITALY - 2010: the Palermo City Council historic birth certificate archive. Southern Public Administration is well known for its slowness and inoperance. Contemporary registers are fully computerized, but it doesn't guarantee a more efficient administration. Computerization is the aliby for all the disfunctions and mistakes made by the Public Services, that invariabily end up with citizens having to prove their innocence, and sometimes even their mere existence. The authorities motto seems to be: "pay first, then prove we were wrong".

  • GREECE - 2012: a state of the art turnstile abandoned at the entrance of the Epidauros theatre, one of the most visited archaeological sites in Greece. Despite of the cost of the installation of this device, the public is actually entering the site through a simple barrer. Who knows how much public money was used to make this totally useless thing, and who actually earned it.

  • SPAIN - 2009: a man with a crutch and a cardboard box rests sitting on a chair of a bar's terrace. This a very sad combination of old age, disability, overload, loneliness, and grey color. A bar is a place supposed to be colorful and full people having fun, socializing and spending money. In this case the metaphore for the crisis is possibly too obvious even for The Economist.

  • PORTUGAL - 2011: an old woman stands on a Lisbon street stairs. Plants grow on the steps and there's garbage piled. The public services budgets are very low, so it takes longer to clean the srteets and erase graffitis from the walls and tramways. Old people feel powerless while witnessing the decay of the streets they percieve as their own natural habitat. Lisbon is one of the most beautiful cities of Europe, but there's too much to take care of.

  • ITALY - 2011: Ms. Sunseri used to be a model in Milan. Today she lives at the Z.E.N. with her family. She walks me around this dangerous neighborhood, protecting me from the drug dealers at the corners. She stops by a kind of shop made out of a few boxes. The counter was built right in front of the entrence door of the lady in black home. This is the entrepreneur spirit, as seen by the people of the Z.E.N.

  • GREECE - 2012: flea market in the surrounding of the Acropolis. The sense of urgency with which the two men proceed, looks to me like they were running for their lifes, taking with them their most precious belongings. I know they're just selling stuff, but I do see a metaphor here.

  • SPAIN - 2012: a cow stands on a walkside of a newly built dormitory suburb in the outskirts of Jerez, a city that illustrates everything that went wrong in Spain: rapid growth based on seemingly limitless borrowing, which produced a glut of houses and office space that nobody wants, right where the city abruptly ends. This mid-sized city of 212,000 people owes one billion euros. Unemployment in Jerez is around 34 percent.

  • PORTUGAL - 2013: the faculty of Humanities at the University of Lisbon. Compared to the nearstanding school of Engineers, this faculty looks like a derelict building. In the last decades Humanities have lost students, and funds. Perceived as less profitable that scientific carrers, Philosophy, Literature, and Classical History are quickly fading from the educational offer. Not by elimination, but by slow and simple starvetion. Another basic asset sacrified for the sake of immediate profitability.

  • ITALY - 2010: an inmigrant is sitting in a park in front of the ruins of a unique normand medieval church. In the background, the "Madonna delle Lacrime Santuary", projected in the 50's, and built in the 70's after an international contest. Politicians try to leave something memorable behind, but the local population rejected this sanctuary for 20 years before they started building it. As usual, the authorities said the last word.

  • GREECE - 2013: a dead palm tree at the abandoned olympic facilities built for the 2004 games. Greece spent 15 billion € to build the complex, but no one planned what to do with venues made for sports with little local interest. The Olympic Games and Expos are the perfect habitat for speculators, and multi-billion star architects. Politicians make their profit both in money and popularity. When the party's over it's nobody's fault, as usual. Anyway, it was nobody's money.

  • SPAIN - 2009: industrial tanks for sale. One would think that big industrial facilities are sold through brokers, agents, and so on. Instead, here there's a phone number. Whoever owns this rusted, derelict tanks, looks desperate enough to trust that someone driving on the highway will see the sign, pick up the phone and say "Hi, I was just thinking of buying a dozen half destroyed tanks to store a zillion liters of whatever". Even big industry in the south is something to deal with face to face, possibly having a drink.