Walking down a busy beach in Spain, photographer Lucia Herrero was struck by the range of human interactions, experiences and emotions on display in this very public sphere. Sitting cheek-to-jowl on the hot sand, these vacationers—young and old, and from diverse cultures—created a portrait of humanity in repose. Inspired by this tableau, Herrero decided to create a series that uses a traditional portrait set-up to pay homage to this diverse collection of people. The resulting project, Tribes, is a unique study of humanity at ease. In moments of relaxation, we are at our most vulnerable, and Herrero’s photographs capture an assortment of emotional relationships and dynamics.
Dewi Lewis, publisher at Dewi Lewis Publishing, selected Tribes as his juror’s pick in our Street Photography Awards 2018. He writes:
”Lucia Herrero’s series Tribes is a fascinating study of groups of ordinary people enjoying themselves on a day out on the beach. The images are clearly collaborative, and the individuals involved are fully engaged in the process. The use of lighting and the backdrop of sea and sky evoke echoes of the studio portrait, as do the formal poses that many of the groups adopt … And so whilst the images are clearly constructed, they convey subtleties of human interaction, of friendship and family.”
Below, Herrero speaks about the foundation of the series, her process, and what she hoped to capture in her unique photographs.
Tribes is a social analysis—a raw portrait of society in the Occident.
These photos of modern-day beach groups are inspired by studio portraits of tribes who proudly posed in traditional garb next to their prized possessions. The sky and the sea become the painted backdrop of the studio and the sand seems as though it is sprinkled on the studio floor. The lighting and the theatricality of the groups add an element of fantasy to these portraits, which feature real people in their natural surroundings. The setup enlightens a banal situation and elevates it to a state of exception. I call this kind of social photography “Antropología Fantástica.” They are photographs that include elements of a documentary and theatrical style; I combine my subjects with fantastical and dramatic elements. It’s a photo-event in which the actors interpret themselves.
Groups of families and friends set themselves up by the sea, equipped to spend a day in the sun. All these details, harmoniously juxtaposed, are like a poem; customs are revealed through humor, color, and tenderness. The profundity of a whole society is revealed.
This series talks about the human condition on holiday. Many emotions are present: they are at peace, they are proud of being there, they are honest and vulnerable. The objectively limited surrounding offers a complete extract of the essential.
This series, a “Spanish tragicomedy,” is meant to have many different interpretations. On the one hand, it talks about the Occidental middle class, which is suffering from an identity crisis created by the current economic situation. These images make us wonder what is changing and what will remain. They also challenge today’s concept of beauty.
The photos were taken along the Spanish coast and people were asked to participate in situ. It took me ten minutes to arrange my setup. All of that dissolved away afterwards, leaving behind only a group portrait, a poetic painting—a human allegory.