Day 6

Photographing Spain's ghost towns 10 years after the financial crisis

On the 10th anniversary of the global financial crisis, photographer Markel Redondo returned to capture Spain's ghost towns — housing developments that he first photographed in the aftermath of the 2008 meltdown.

'It is really sad to see all these skeletons across our country'

For the 10th anniversary of the global financial crisis, Markel Redondo revisited housing developments in Spain, which he first photographed after the 2008 meltdown. (Submitted by Markel Redondo)
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Back in 2008, Spain was among the countries who were hit the hardest by the financial crisis.

Ten years ago, the Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, sparking the global financial crisis. As a result, at least 30 million people across the world lost their jobs. Many countries were driven to the edge of collapse.

Up until then, Spain had been referred to as the "Miracle of Europe" after a housing boom that saw it build more new housing than any other western European country. However, many of the new developments were ultimately abandoned, with most left unfinished or empty.

At the time, photographer Markel Redondo captured what he calls Spain's "ghost towns" of the financial crisis.

Now a decade later, he returned to some of those "ghost towns" to see what became of them. He joined Day 6 host Brent Bambury to discuss what he found.

How did you first become interested in these housing projects that were abandoned after the financial collapse in 2008?

Like many other Spaniards, I was affected by the crisis. And as a photographer, I was looking for ways to show that to the rest of the world [and] how to portray the crisis that we were having in Spain.

While I was travelling and working in the south I discovered some abandoned houses — ghost towns — and I immediately thought that would be an incredible project. I started to document myself and spend a couple of years photographing these places across Spain. I always [had] the idea to go back 10 years later to see what had happened with these places.

Back in 2008, Markel Redondo went to photograph abandoned houses in Spain after the financial crisis. These are some units located in Benidorm. (Submitted by Markel Redondo)

When I look at your photographs, I'm astonished by the scale of the abandoned projects, the number of units that were intended to go there, and how remote they seem in the countryside. Can you describe what you saw when you first took these photos?

I was surprised. It felt really absurd to me because we're having a crisis. There was unemployment, people were losing their houses, evictions and suddenly on the other side, all these expensive luxurious developments that were kind of half built in the middle of nowhere so it felt really absurd.

I had this impulse to photograph this place in a way to remind people of what we've done.

The other extraordinary thing about the photographs is that there are no humans in them, so you see these giant developments that have been imposed on the landscape. Were there no people around when you took the photos?

No. These places, they've never been inhabited. In some places, there were — at the beginning — security guards, but not anymore, because it's expensive for companies or for the banks to keep someone there. And so now, they are completely empty. There's nothing. It really feels like the end of the world.

Markel Redondo said he revisited Spain's "ghost towns" because he wanted to see what was done to the country's landscape and how it was treated. (Submitted by Markel Redondo)

They're truly abandoned. You call these projects sandcastles. Why is that?

The name of 'sandcastles' came from a song from Jimi Hendrix, which is called Castles Made of Sand. It's a song that's more like a love song but it talks about separation and things that don't last forever. For me, it felt like these places were in a way houses or castles that will eventually fall or disappear into the sea, like Jimi said in his song.

3.4 million homes were abandoned after 2008. Spain's economy has recovered since then. Why are they still abandoned? Why did no one go back to them and try to restart the projects?

It's a big problem, because these places, they haven't been finished and the constructors that were building them went bankrupt after the crisis. These projects now belong to the banks, and the banks don't really have the interest in finishing them, because it's still a lot of money to finish them. There's no electricity, no water [and] a lot of work to do.

And even if they went to demolish them, it's going to be as extensive as finishing them. So they don't know what to do or they don't want to do anything with them; it's a big problem.

"It is really sad to see all these skeletons across our country," said Markel Redondo about the abandoned houses left in Spain. (Submitted by Markel Redondo)

So what do these places tell you now? Ten years after you first photographed them, when you see them now in the state that they're in, what is the message that you see when you look at these installations?

I have an intention as a photographer. I really want people to realize what our country, our politicians have done — to make sure we're not doing the same mistakes again in the future.

Now, there's construction going on [and] there's a lot of new houses being built when we have a lot of empty homes still.

So there might be another bubble in a few years. It's important for us to know what happened not so long ago, so we don't make the same mistakes.

And also, it's important to see what we've done with our landscape and how we treat it, our mountains [and] our lands, so we don't do the same thing. Because it is really sad to see all these skeletons across our country.


This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

To hear the full conversation with Markel Redondo, download our podcast or click listen above.

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