I was thinking recently about how remote from the natural world our lives are now. Our dwelling places protect us from the elements. But there are people who don’t have that luxury. For some, it’s by necessity but for others there’s an element of choice….they choose to live a semi-nomadic lifestyle, separate from mainstream society.
In an exhibition entitled, ‘The Riverbed’, at The Architectural Association Gallery in London, photographer and writer Ben Murphy has documented a group of such communities in a remote mountainous area of south-east Spain with a series of photos of peoples’ dwellings, ranging from vehicles to makeshift huts.
Looking at the pictures, words that come to my mind are ‘precarious’, ‘uncomfortable’, ‘rustic’. I wonder why anyone would choose to live like that. Maybe they don’t really choose. But one of the nice things about Ben Murphy’s portrayal of these people is the respect he shows them and their way of life. He definitely portrays them as choosing this life style…for various reasons…some have been influenced by the ‘hippie’ culture of the 60’s, others are punks, anarchists, ravers, new travelers, hedonists and so on. It’s a counter-culture.
This story and the exhibition is rich with irony. There’s the irony of the title: the riverbed…a place that’s cold and uninhabitable – no human can live in a river – and yet, it’s a bed..a place of softness, comfort, safety refuge. And that same irony inhabits the exhibition, the images and the people represented. Who is living a fuller, freer life – me, living in my house with strong walls and air conditioning ‘protected’ from the elements, or these people whose lives and dwellings are more open to nature and the elements?