Makeshift Houses in Spain are this Photographer’s Unusual Subject

A decade-spanning project might seem daunting to the average person, but perhaps it was the compelling subject matter of photographer Ben Murphy‘s series The Riverbed that kept him coming back. Recording makeshift and rural houses in south east Spain, The Riverbed explores the architecture and habitats of counter-culture neo-nomadic communities, and will be exhibited at The Architectural Association, London, from the 18th of March.

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The photographs were taken over the course of ten years, during which Ben visited many encampments and temporary structures. Although people are purposefully excluded from the 21 analogue prints that comprise the series (and the limited edition book by which it is accompanied), their presence is felt in the human details of the structures they call home.

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“Photographs interest me when they exude a kind of phenomenological energy,” Ben tells us, “when they create a sense of being in place.” We talk a bit more with Ben, to place ourselves across Spain in these unusual architectural and counter-cultural spaces.

The Plus: What appeals to you about photography, and what do you think we can we learn from it?
Ben Murphy:
I find photography melancholic – it inevitably is a record of something from the past, something irretrievable except through the photographic image. The moment the photograph is taken, the subject changes.

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TP: What drew you to this particular subject for your work?
BM:
I am perplexed by how complicated it is to live outside of society. We are all so dependent on global networks of consumerism, technology, energy consumption and industrialisation. What is interesting is that these people have made an educated decision to be here, and are quite often from privileged backgrounds.

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TP: Tell us a bit about some problems you may have faced capturing such remote and isolated communities.
BM:
My first problem was gaining their trust. They have chosen to escape society, so I didn’t photograph anything without their consent. In practical terms, it was difficult for me to carry my large camera up and down steep hillside paths – I use a large format analogue camera.

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TP: After shooting in such diverse conditions – which must have been a technical challenge – what would be your ideal shoot?
BM:
There are certain conditions that I like to work in- diffused light. I like the quality of flat ambient light very much, where there are no shadows.

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TP: And what would be your subject of choice?
BM:
I would like to do some work in China. Perhaps that is my ideal subject.

TP: Finally, tell us which artist (living or dead) you would like to have dinner with.
BM:
Francis Bacon. Hugely entertaining, charismatic, forgiving, provocative, humble, arrogant, wise, elusive, gifted, articulate, educated.

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Ben Murphy will be showing The Riverbed at The Architectural Association, London, 18-31 March 2017 and 19 April- 27 May 2017.

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