Partying tourists, exclusive restaurants, green hinterland – the island of Mallorca has many faces. In his Badlands series, the photographer Tomeu Coll reveals yet another. His images show places that are not far off the beaten tourist tracks, yet exist as though light years away. Neglected villages defined by poverty and hopelessness. That is where Coll was born and grew up. His pictures open up a doorway to a parallel world.
In your Badlands series you are documenting your home village on the island Mallorca. Is it harder to document one’s home or somewhere foreign?
I always thought it far more complicated to photograph what is part of yourself, your place, your home; but at the same time I need to be part of what I’m photographing, otherwise it would make no sense for me to do it. I like to encourage other photographers to document their home villages. It must be, at least for me, the only way to really understand this world and society in an accurate way. It will also be more sensitive, emotional and meaningful, and not contaminated by what society expects of oneself.
Please give us some facts about the situation of the people who are living in the so-called Badlands. What does the future hold for them?
Nothing has really changed there. I don’t live there any more. After the book was released, I finally decided to move away. I still have my family there and visit the place often, but I need to have some distance from it. What the future will bring to this place is hard to say, but I don’t expect anything will really change; or in the case that it does, it won’t be anything particularly good.
Probably some areas will turn into an industrial area: the airport and tourism are not going to stop growing, so there is something in the planning of the island that only contemplates increasing the numbers of visitors, instead of trying to save the memories of those who inhabit this isolated land in the middle of the sea.
How did you come up with the idea for your series?
Ever since I started working with a camera, the most common subject was the surroundings of my village… so that was probably the beginning, the root of the series. But it wasn’t until 2006 when, inspired by my friend, mentor and soul mate Donna Ferrato, I really decided to work on Badlands, as the story it has turned into today.
By that time she was doing a little story about her street in New York: photographing her neighbours, everything around her. I was there in some of the situations, and I learned a lot by being at her side – especially about how to move, how to talk, how to see, and how to experience and taste the reality we are part of. Now I can say it was more like a gift, and a learning about how to live more than how to photograph, because photography, as I understand it, is an extension of life.
Your photos are very emotional. Are emotions important for you to take photos?
I would like to say no to this, but it wouldn’t be real. Emotions are everything for me. I even force them sometimes, because it is the only way I can feel attached to what I’m photographing. What is a photograph if it doesn’t show any emotion? And what is a photographer who doesn’t or can’t feel anything for what he/she is shooting or seeing? I couldn’t really understand photography without emotions.
Will this series ever be finished?
Even if I decided to leave the place in order to stop, or pretend that the series is finished, I always know that it’s not like that. I still photograph everything when I go there; I still carry my Leica everyday, over my shoulders. I can’t stop photographing everything that captures my attention. It’s not like before, when sometimes I woke up at 6 am to follow the fog within the trees, searching for answers in the unknown lands; but I’m still looking and discovering new stories.
A year before the pandemic, I met some young 17-year-olds in the village, and started photographing them. Today I go to the cities they moved to, to continue photographing their lives. It will give another perspective about how some people from the Badlands have tried to find their way to escape, and, despite it being a whole new project, it will always be linked to Badlands.
The photos were taken before the Corona pandemic. How has Corona changed the way you look at your home?
Corona has changed the way I look at everything. It was also the point of no return to leave my home, to finish my life in that place. Of course the book has a part about it; so the whole process of making it gave me other perspectives concerning how I’ve seen my home, and how I photographed everything around it.
What kind of equipment did you use? What is it you value about it?
I still have my Leica M6, although I sometimes use an M7 now – and always with my dear Summilux-M 1:1.4/35 ASPH.: that’s the other gem. I don’t really need anything else, although sometimes I also use a APO-Telyt-M 1:3,4/135 mm. There are many things I consider basics, such as the design, the quality, the mechanics, the glass; but the most important thing for me, is how much you can put of yourself in the object, the machine, the ghostbuster (as I like to call it because of the latent image). Some nights I wake up searching for the camera, as if it is an extension of my own body.
Tomeu Coll was born in 1981 on the island of Mallorca. He became involved in photography at the age of 17 and received a Master’s Degree in Photojournalism from the Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona. He has been the recipient of several photography awards, including the Illes Balears Photojournalism Award for two consecutive years. He was featured as an Emerging Photographer by Smithsonian Magazine (USA) for his project Badlands, and has had solo shows at the Winter Festival of Sarajevo and at La Nacional Gallery in New York. Coll works for Stern, Der Spiegel, L’Illustre and other international publications. In 2019 his book Badlands was published by Kehrer Verlag. Find out more about his photography on his website and Instagram channel.