The Pigs

PORTUGAL - 2011: a young gipsy holds his horse after cleaning it. It's always striking to see working horses in urban context. It's like different development ages coexisting in time. When I see this image, I can't help thinking about this painting by Picasso. In fact, some icons live long lives, and therefore coexist with their own future.
ITALY - 2011: abandoned buildings at Pizzo Sella.The buildings have been embargoed by the local Court for almost 2 decades, after a dispute between ambientalists and a local promoter. The story of the houses in Pizzo Sella, begins in 1978, when the Sicilcalce spa - a company close to the then boss of Cosa Nostra Michele Greco got 314 building permits. Someone gave the permits and got paid for them. A few took the money, while all the rest live with the skeletons on the hill.
GREECE - 2012: people walking at the flea market. Inside a garbage container, a homeless man looks for any useful thing to take . After years of deep economic crisis, enduring hard austerity measures, and with no clear future in the horizon, Greece has become a poor country. On the left part of the image, a violent robot graffiti makes me think of how this crisis may be somehow the consequence of a hyper-technological life.
SPAIN - 2009: Residencial Francisco Hernando was built in the early 2000's decade. This residential compound is now partially empty. Many low-middle class families bought one or two apartments on credit for speculating, and got trapped by the bubble burst. The banks own almost all the empty apartments, but they don't pay the service charges. The neighborhood is isolated and it was built very close to a tires dump.
PORTUGAL - 2013: tiles painting is one of the most unique and world known crafts from Portugal. In this corner they used the traditional tile painting technique to write this message: "holy Europe of hope", and added many euro symbols also painted on tiles. Southern european countries are traditionally very europhiles. Thanks to the extreme austerity measures imposed by the so-called Troika, this feeling is quickly disappearing. Just like the tiles on the wall.
ITALY - 2010: two young men dragging a horse on their scooter. The horse is wearing a mask because it's going to run in a race close to a highway. In Central Palermo there is a number of horses that are supposedly used for tourist attractions, while the reality is that there is a millionare business of gambling at illegal races on asphalt.
GREECE - 2012: large areas of Athens are sistematically spraypainted, and never cleaned. The city council has no budget left for anything that is not strictly vital. It strikes me to see people devalue their own place under the aliby of self expression and a presumed art form. I wonder how happy is the woman in the picture to go through it every time she enters her home. Besides the economical damage, I also think this strident environment can't be too healthy for the soul.
SPAIN - 2009: an abandoned car dealer shop with cars in it. The building, the court and one of the cars have apparently been abandoned for a long time, while the car on the right side seems to be operative. Coexistance between active life and ruins is an identity mark for countries used to pile layers of history for thousands of years.
PORTUGAL - 2011: a man waits for his lunch in a central little restaurant, not very far from the garbage containers. In societies, where family is the basic social structure, acting as a safety net for those left with nothing, people who don't have relatives fall often into depression, and are at risk of social exclusion. Being a lonely person in the southern european countries is always a very bad sign.
ITALY - 2010: Corrado Valvo, Noto mayor, demonstrates in front of the City Council in Palermo to protest for the closing of Noto's hospital. He is surrounded by his city local police agents, who back him. In Italy It is not unusual to see politicians leading demonstrations wearing full dress uniform. The man speaking with two mobile phones while covering his mouth, and the gang looks are misleading: they are not the evil ones in this situation.
GREECE - 2013: barely 2 Km away from the dream-like port of Naxos, there is this dump where anything from a fridge to a dozen rotten goats can be found. Sure, you have to do something with the garbage, but does it have to be simply piled on the beautifull soft cliffs to the sunset?. There must be a better way to deal with it.
SPAIN - 2012: a cow stands on a walkside of a newly built dormitory suburb in the outskirts of Jerez, a city that illustrates everything that went wrong in Spain: rapid growth based on seemingly limitless borrowing, which produced a glut of houses and office space that nobody wants, right where the city abruptly ends. This mid-sized city of 212,000 people owes one billion euros. Unemployment in Jerez is around 34 percent.
PORTUGAL - 2011: a gipsy woman begs in front of a church. In the background tourists driving a triclIe ment for visiting the city's narrow streets. The economy crisis makes the poor poorer, while the tourists benefit from internal devaluation. And that, paradoxically, may be the only way to recovery as long as the Euro is still circulating.
ITALY - 2011: Ms. Sunseri used to be a model in Milan. Today she lives at the Z.E.N. with her family. She walks me around this dangerous neighborhood, protecting me from the drug dealers at the corners. She stops by a kind of shop made out of a few boxes. The counter was built right in front of the entrence door of the lady in black home. This is the entrepreneur spirit, as seen by the people of the Z.E.N.
GREECE - 2012: a muslim inmigrant prays in a street of an old industrial park close to a bus station. Since Greece is one of the main entrance doors to Europe for illegal inmigrants, there are many of them jobless, homeless, and without any social coverage. The crisis has increased xenophobic feelings among greeks. The streets are not safe for inmigrants, who tend to stay in non populated areas, and to avoid group prayers.
SPAIN - 2009: a man with a crutch and a cardboard box rests sitting on a chair of a bar's terrace. This a very sad combination of old age, disability, overload, loneliness, and grey color. A bar is a place supposed to be colorful and full people having fun, socializing and spending money. In this case the metaphore for the crisis is possibly too obvious even for The Economist.
PORTUGAL - 2011: a woman cleans the front of her home, standing on a stair in a balcony with no railing, nor any security measure. It doesn't matter how poor may a house be; a southern european traditional woman will never let it look dirty. She will risk her life if that is necessary to get every inch of her house polished and shiny.
ITALY - 2011: children walk by two burnt cars. The Z.E.N. (North Expansion Zone) is a suburb designed in the 70's to relocate families living in slums in the outskirts of Palermo. Designed by the world famous architect Vittorio Gregotti, the Z.E.N. became home of crooks and drug dealers, Instead of becoming the urban paradise they promised. A few days before finishing the works, thousands occupied the whole neighborhood within a few hours. Again, complicity between the mafias and the local politicians (if there's any difference) seem to be the magic potion to ensure that things become as bad it gets.
GREECE - 2013: a dead palm tree at the abandoned olympic facilities built for the 2004 games. Greece spent 15 billion € to build the complex, but no one planned what to do with venues made for sports with little local interest. The Olympic Games and Expos are the perfect habitat for speculators, and multi-billion star architects. Politicians make their profit both in money and popularity. When the party's over it's nobody's fault, as usual. Anyway, it was nobody's money.
SPAIN - 2012: hotel "El Algarrobico" was built in a protected Natural Park with the complicity of local authorities. Popular activism and the pressure made by Greenpeace stopped the project, although after a decade of litigation, it has not yet been demolished. It's interesting, though, that many locals would like the hotel to start operating, and revitalize the poor local economy.



PIGS is a term coined by the business and financial press as a way to refer to Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain during their current financial plight. Some would also include Ireland in this group, but since it never possessed an empire, it hasn’t had to face the loss in historical prominence that the PIGS have.  What started as a pejorative label used by neoconservatives, mainly from English speaking countries, was eventually taken up for some time without any qualms by the media.  Excessively high levels of public and private debt, government deficits, a property bubble and, generally speaking, very disappointing political and economic policies, have put the PIGS in the crosshairs. It is alleged that the PIGS won’t be able to bear the pressure of sharing a common currency with their stronger European brethren. In this analysis, the forced exit of at least some of the PIGS from the Euro would lead soon to the demise of the European currency.  Yet, how much truth is there to this? To what extent are the wealthy member countries of the Eurozone really fed up with paying for the Southern countries? Is the UK secretly celebrating the stumbling blocks the Euro experiment is facing? Has Europe’s historical decline reached a point of no return from which it won’t be able to recover? Or is this just an attack by speculators to get rid of the EU as a competitor in the international financial markets? Have the PIGS really been deluding themselves into enjoying a level of prosperity that doesn’t match their social and financial reality?  I have often asked myself how, after so many centuries of splendor, could these countries have come to their current destitute state. What happened to Greece, the cradle of Western Civilization? What became of Italy, heir to the Roman Empire and endowed with one of the richest artistic heritages in the world? What went wrong with Portugal, the first global naval power in history? At what point did Spain and its empire, on which the sun never set, see the onset of their decline? I believe the root-cause of our countries’ current sorry state of affairs is to be found in the distant past. Issues that for many centuries piled up on our doorsteps are now rearing their heads and plain to see.  Classical Greece and its world disappeared with the eclipse of the ancient schools of philosophy. Greek culture waned during the Byzantine Empire, becoming almost buried during the time of Ottoman rule. The difficult process of rebuilding its national identity in the 19th Century was overseen from the start by other European powers.  Italy fragmented at the fall of the Roman Empire. The presence of the Pope in Rome, the only bond among the numerous states that comprised the Italian peninsula, made the establishment of a central secular power impossible. In spite of which Garibaldi was able to unify the country, albeit in a somewhat artificial manner, in the 19th Century.  Portugal, after controlling the main African sailing routes, saw its position falter with the discovery of America, and the consequent obsolescence of its trade with the East. The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 leveled the country in many ways. The Colonial Wars of Independence at the end of the 20th Century impoverished even further an already poor country.  In as much as the discovery of America served to enrich Spain greatly, it also engendered an empire of courtesans and administrators with no entrepreneurial spirit. The Catholic Church prevented the Enlightenment from flourishing. The gradual loss of its colonies, and 40 years of dictatorship under Franco deepened its economic and social backwardness.  And so it is that, over time, a significant discord developed between the perception the PIGS have of themselves, fed by an idealized view of their own past, and the weakness of the foundations on which they actually stand. The PIGS view themselves, rightly, as the architects, and as the stem cells from which the idea of Europe developed. Southern Europe resists admitting its loss of political stature in the global political arena, seeing itself as the wellspring of Western Civilization. Both in the institutional sphere, and at a personal and individual level, the PIGS embody a paradox. An overblown perception of their own relevance that clashes with an inferiority complex standing between their own desire of greatness and the reality of their situation.  The PIGS are all old, cynical and individualistic countries. The sense of community, so deeply rooted in Northern European countries, is very weak in the PIGS, carrying as they do upon their backs the weight of centuries of a highly hierarchical social structure, and being accustomed to both authoritarian and corrupt governments. People have turned their backs on the political class, from which they don’t expect much, if at all, and seek to improve their wellbeing exclusively from a personal standpoint; an attitude that constitutes both an evolutionary advantage for survival, and a factor hindering social progress. Meanwhile, the family as a social institution has maintained its authority, serving both as a refuge and as a prison.  I have attempted to illustrate the stereotypes brought up by the term PIGS. In other words, what we would see if we were to translate into images the articles we read in the financial press. This is how I imagine economists see us. The result is a collection of clichés, both true and incomplete. The same way a travel guide carefully avoids anything seemingly unattractive, this book shows much of what we find embarrassing, oftentimes rightly, and at times unfairly. Either way, it’s just an artifice with which to highlight a specific aspect of life in the PIGS. In the end, what stands out the most is the glaring absence in these images of all that is positive, beautiful and promising in our countries, and that still endures. - Carlos Spottorno

2009 to 2013

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