The Riverbed
Project info

In a remote mountainous area of south east Spain groups of multi-national, non-conformist individuals live out their versions of paradise in temporary, loosely bound, intentional communities. Living in customised trucks, vans and coaches and other self-made makeshift dwellings, the idiosyncrasies of these spaces constitute and represent their occupants anti-establishment beliefs and identities. Unlike forced migrants coming into Europe from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and other African and middle eastern countries, the people here have different objectives; they have chosen migration as a lifestyle option, to attempt to escape society rather than join it. Together they define themselves through the habitations they create.

Acknowledging the cultural and symbolic values of place and space, these large format photographs consider how international migrant neo-nomadic counter-cultural identities are manifested, reinforced and maintained through dwelling, habitat and territory, when taken out of their historical context and places of origin. The intention of the work is to reflect on and question our notions of home, freedom, sense of place and identity within these encampments and draw out some of the inevitable paradoxes, compromises, contradictions and tensions inherent in living an alternative life on the margins of the mainstream.

Distinct counter-cultural sites exist here in hard to find places; along the banks of infertile riverbeds, in ravines and off mountain passes, in relative proximity to each other and in continual states of flux. People who reject and subvert the values of conventional society from Europe, North and South America, Japan and South Africa, come and go; all making their temporal imprint on the land and local culture through the environments they stage. Dwellings appear and disappear. They are constructed, occupied, then abandoned or destroyed. Often when their original occupants move on, they are then reclaimed by others. Some homes are made inside vehicles and go from site to site, from one country to another. Living in a foreign country away and apart from the place where anti-establishment ideologies were crystalised, their transient homes, their belongings and the sites they inhabit play an integral part in their sense of self.

All of these tribal identities owe something to the attempts of others to live outside society in previous centuries, however it is outsider cultures established in the twentieth century that have had the most direct impact. Some have been impressed by the philosophies and actions of American and European Hippy culture from the 1960s and 1970s, in the writings and actions of radical thinkers such as Timothy Leary, Buckminster Fuller and Stewart Brand, subsequently embodied in places such as Drop City, Colorado, The Farm, Tennessee and New Buffalo, New Mexico. Others come from late twentieth century anti-establishment movements and traditions; Punk, Rave, New Traveller and environmental protest groups. Among them are Anarchists, hedonists and newer disaffected identities formed at festivals and gatherings from the homogenization and amalgamation of alternative cultures. As well as people with specific beliefs, there are those with no fixed affiliations and those who are unable or unwilling to live in the confines of conventional society. In abiding by the unwritten rules and codes of behaviour here most outsiders are accepted and included within these self-regulating temporary autonomous zones. Unlike other intentional communities around the world, these sites do not operate as collectives and attempts at self-sufficient cooperative communal living are limited to small sub groups within the communities. They alienate themselves from conventional modes of living and express identity partly through their situation in these hidden places and specifically through their choice of habitat.

Ben Murphy
2016