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(Originally published in Lateral magazine, May 2003) / 1


General Sight Over the Beach

hen I wrote in my book Diarios (Espasa, 2002) about the photo by Javier Bauluz, at first published in the Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia (01-10-00), then front page image of The New York Times (10-07-01) and later Godo Award of Photojournalism 2001, my initial intention was not to unmask either the author or his work. That is, I was not interested in exposing the specific circumstances in which that picture had been taken —though I knew them. If I took care of it, I did insofar as an example of fitting the rhetoric of fiction into narration of facts. It is a recurrent theme in Diarios.

I reproached him, just like many journalists, for turning to the archetype and abandoning people In other words, I was interested in describing how some photographers aspire to photograph the symbols even at the expense of facts. When Bauluz captured that couple with corpse that were sitting on the sand at a beach in Cadiz, he did not think of dead or alive people who were there. The only important thing was the metaphor: as a conventional narrator of fiction, Bauluz decided

ARCADI ESPADA The debate comes from a photograph published in 2000 in La Vanguardia, and titled The Indifference of the West. Arcadi Espada, in his book Diarios (Espasa, Madrid, 2002), denounced it as an example of fictionalization of reality. Later on, La Vanguardia replied to him, first through the Reader’s Advocate and then with a dossier. This is the Espada’s response.

not to stick to the thorny procedure of the real thing that compulsorily characterizes any journalistic discourse. The photograph was intended to reflect the indifference of the West toward the tragedy of the African immigration. But the metaphor, as in the case of the worst ones, was sustained in a vacuum: in regard to the protagonists the photograph did not prove there to be indifference or, if any, that it was that of the West. Nor Flaubert had to provide more evidence about the existence of Madame Bovary. He had enough with saying that Emma Bovary did not exist, but in the province of France, thousands of Emmas were preparing the pot-au-feu to their husbands. However, when compared to his illustrious predecessor, Bauluz had a little problem: both the body and the couple existed and so that they consent to the condition of symbols, the agreement with

the real thing was indispensable. I, anyway, reproached the photographer, just like too many journalists, for turning to the archetype and abandoning the people. And I was showing in the corresponding note in Diarios my indignation at the fact that the people had to unfairly shoulder the consequences of an undesirable archetype. That this young couple, finally, had to carry on their shoulders the burden of the West’s indifference toward the plight of African immigration, for the rest of their days. Moreover, unlike the supposed Doisneau’s lovers (Le baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville: fiction and archetype of Paris in love) the young couple caught at the beach had not charged for posing. Far from it. Nothing in their position or their expression, nothing at all, allowed attribute to them —with the ridiculous belief exhibited by the photographer and his publishers— an attitude of

indifference. Many other feelings (of doubt, expectancy, curiosity, resignation, meditation, pain, many others) were consistent with their portrait. But neither Bauluz nor his publishers were interested in any of them. The photo of Trieste Nor they were interested, of course, in a different hypothesis regarding that the indifference was a consequence of racism. To their plans it was imperative that the indifference was specifically theWest’s, that is, the projected by a pair of Western citizens on the body of an African. I included the photograph of a beach in Trieste on a recent summer in the pages of Diarios, next to the paragraphs of an article by Claudio Magris. The photograph, first published in a local newspaper and then on the Corriere della Sera, had caused some debate in Italy, in which participated Claudio Magris himself with his customary finesse, because it showed the body of a drowned man among bathers —he was rather closely surrounded by bathers than among them. In Trieste (and in many other beaches every summer) the promiscuity of the living and dead was much more striking than in Cadiz and raised several thoughts. Among them that not all people are dealing equally with the dead. Certainly I would not tolerate a bath in sight of a corpse. Also at the vigils I am very careful not watch the coffin discovered. But I would never dare to state that

© Javier Bauluz. Photograph published by La Vanguardia October 1, 2000. It is the other photograph that provokes the controversy.

(Originally published in Lateral magazine, May 2003) / 2

such discrepancy I have with the bodies presupposes a greater sense of humanity, more noble, than that of those who choose other behaviours. Still, it seems easy to agree that the bodies require respect, and that in our cultural circumstances, respect can be translated, for example, into establishing a certain distance when someone suddenly drops dead among the living. Also, that not even in Trieste neither in many other beaches, such distance seemed to be kept. It went, by the way, quite the opposite in the case of Cadiz. I will talk about that later. What I want to emphasize now is that the overwhelming majority of the bodies that appear on the beaches are not of immigrants. And that the alleged indifference of those who, as in Trieste, are around them, does not depend on the physical or social consequences of the drowned: it is not about a xenophobic indifference, but merely human. I know that the enunciation of these circumstances is not enough to ensure that indifference (always alleged) of the bathers was alien to the African condition of the victim: but at least calls it into question. And, of course, attributing the obstinacy in the relaxation of the bathers to the racial features of the victim is a demagogic fraud —prophylactic deep down in view of more devastating scenarios, more humanly devastating though do not accumulate the surcharge from the beautiful and effective metaphor drawn by Bauluz and followers: that one about the inhabitants of paradise ignoring the unhappy man who was unable to reach its shores. The unpublished pictures These are, summarized, some of the objections that I wrote about the work of Bauluz. The objections have prompted the response of the photographer in some journalistic forums —among the ones I know, a virtual meeting with readers at www.elmundo.es, and an interview in the Leer magazine for the month of February of 2003—, and specially in the newspaper La Vanguardia, who not only originally published the photo by Bauluz, but also gave him an award with the owner’s name of the newspaper. The readers’ advocate1 first, and the Magazine (02-03-03) later, dedicated great space to the subject. However, there is something more than declamations in the pages of the magazine. It is the exhibition of some of the photos —unpublished to date— that Bauluz made on the beach. The material shows that the closeness between the body and the couple is merely an optical effect, deliberately provoked by the photographer. A good example of why James Natchwey, the exceptional North American photographer, refuses to use large objectives, “Zoom lenses compress space and distance and create an artificial uniformity”, said Natchley in Abc (05-04-03). Similarly, the unpublished material shows also that the intimacy of the silent dramatic dialogue between couple and body is unreal: since Civil Guard took the body out of the water (that

the two youngs kissing each other in front of the Hôtel de Ville. A duel of photos

Piece from the photograph by Javier Bauluz General Sight Over the Beach, published in La Vanguardia’s Magazine, in a frame that does not allow to note the distance between the body and the couple of bathers.

never arrived to the beach spat out by the waves as the myth would have like) and placed it on the sand to a respectful distance from the nearest bathers (the couple), the body was surrounded and there was, in a way, a vigil held over it: Bauluz himself, in the account he makes of his action at the beach (full of pointless details and surprisingly orphan of technical data of the highest interest, such as the lenses he used) recognizes that Civil Guard had drawn a circle around the body and did not let anyone not authorized to pass it. The exhibition of Magazine ends with the most significant rhetorical feature of the set-up, attributable to the textual device which it was treated with, rather than the photo: if in the original reportage the seminal photography bore a caption that read: “A couple notes with indifference...”, now the caption no longer treads the soul of the couple: “A couple next to a corpse...” will the caption read now, more soberly, though enjoying the benefits of a purely mythical spatiality.

people. In the foreground there is a man lying: the corpse. Among the several people that are close to the corpse there are Civil Guards and a television camera. But the crucial thing, of course, is on the far right, nearly at half of the frame. There, under their umbrella, are a couple. And at each point of that imaginary diagonal he traces with the body (located, naturally, several meters away) the rhetorical ploy gone into operation by Bauluz is warned, by standing behind the couple and pointing a zoom lens at them. I have put these two pictures facing each other in many occassions. One day I asked myself: Regardless of what you know about them, what is it that makes one of those pictures false? It was a question impossible to answer, at least for me, since I was completely flawed by the question. So I talked to Paco Caja, who was Professor of Theory and History of Photography at the University of Barcelona. He kept on telling me in detail many observations of interest. For example, the relationship between the size of the protagonists Neither Bauluz nor his in both pictures, much more equitative in the general shot, since it was obtained by an electronic eye, publishers have more comparable to human eye. understood yet He made me see the optical illusion that the sunshade’s fringes the nature of the looked nearly hitting the corpse’s head. When I asked Caja about the manipulation mechanisms that Bauluz had used for a deceptively approximating the to which the couple three protagonists in an illusory way, he said something of great interest: were subjected “The photographer could have used a zoom lens. Or the blowing up of Despite appearances it must not be a detail from a larger shot. Or even placed himself one meter from the surprising that those responsible for the Magazine have illustrated their couple and shot with a normal lens. offended gestures with these photos It is impossible to know it”. The inthat refute them irrevocably. In fact terest was, I thought, on the neither Bauluz nor his publishers have latter possibility. That he would have understood yet (and its response, reshot one meter away from them. produced below, is the proof ) the na- For doing this, he should have ture of the manipulation to which the come to some kind of agreement, couple were subjected. Fortunately, tacit or not, with them. This was a this misunderstanding has allowed us crazy hypothesis, I already knew, but to know the empirical evidence of the I liked to fantasize (the writer of farce. But implies, at the same time, facts needs venting) about the posthat they may resume their theaters2 sibility that Bauluz would have used them as models. That he would ha at the first opportunity. Among the previously unpublished ve made them pose. Because in fact, photographs that the magazine as I wrote before, nothing except the price objectively separated them shows, it highlights one. That is the one we could entitle General Sight from the models of Doisneau: the Over the Beach. The picture explains indifference attributed to them was as impersonated as the love of itself. A large beach, with a lot of

However, even a couple of thoughts more arose from the duel between the two pictures. The first one affected the alleged political nature of the denunciation that Bauluz had made on the indifference of the two bathers. The comparison also brought surprises in this area. In fact, the mother of all photos was much more reassuring to the individual conscience. Because, of course, no most happy Westerner was going to identify with this obscene couple. The paradox was ready: the seminal photo meant to represent The indifference of the West, but it was impossible for it to dug its nails into any Westerner: it seems more problematic, on the other hand, to avoid identification with the blurred silhouettes —whose political sin is not the indifference but maybe the happiness— that inhabit the general sight. Between the seminal photo and the General Sight Over the Beach there was, finally, a simple but very significant mechanical operation. In the “General Sight...” Bauluz had opened the angle and had shown what was around bathers, supposedly alone. And that’s how he had uncovered the fundamental trap of the awarded photo. There is a radical way to deal with the truth of a picture: wondering what it is beside, exactly. If you open the angle, and what is shown is contradictory to the original selected, then the picture is false. This procedure can be applied here. The two main messages of the photo are immediately destroyed. The intimacy between the couple and the body, essential to enable them to engage their chilling dialogue, is challenged by the presence of civil guards, journalists and several assistances. And the distance between the obscene couple and the corpse is also revealed as false. Anyone who observes the general sight over the beach can see that there was a distance of respect between the body and the couple.

If you open the angle and what is shown is contradictory to the

original selected, then the picture is false

The procedure of opening the angle has made me think (and I hope that the quality of thought is not determined by the quality of its original provocations) about a possible theory of the fact. In Diarios, and in any of my previous books, I argue that facts have no versions. Carner, the great prose writer, said that truth can be be broken into a thousand pieces, but it is still just one. It is certain: and none of those pieces can contradict one another. When you delimit a fact and then open the angle without finding

(Originally published in Lateral magazine, May 2003) / 3

General Sight Over the Beach, © Javier Bauluz. Photograph published in La Vanguardia March 2, 2003

Infography of General Sight Over the Beach by Javier Bauluz, where the focus, direction and sense can be noted as well as the frame with it was published at first time in La Vanguardia, just as it can be noted in the previouis page.

contradictions (versions), is that we are probably facing a fact: that is, the appropriate epistemological cut that allows to recognize a fact as such. That is the main difference between the seminal photo and the General Sight... In the first case, opening the angle makes all sorts of contradictions, especially based in solitude and (false) distance; in the second one, we could open the angle until the last boundary of the universe: I do not see any contradiction could be found.

Bauluz left the beach at twilight. Among all the material that he gathered in four work hours, there was a great picture: the general sight with a corpse in the foreground. This picture has the feature that distinguishes great stories from facts, the great journalistic stories: it is both ambitious and modest. It is ambitious because it does not renounce to embrace the fact, to identify the real thing without threats. It is also modest, because it knows that the

epistemology of journalism can not disentangle in the being nothing larger than the size of a silhouette —any of which wanders about in the photo of the beach, more or less away from a body. To caption that moving, most humanely picture, it could have been put in Magris’ words: “We have to continue living, it is said after each death: and Bernanos wondered if that was not just the horrible thing.” Not only the horrible thing, might be added: perhaps it is also the inexpli-

cable thing. Bauluz could have opted for that meditation. He was carrying it in his bag. But he preferred the propaganda, wich is better paid.


Arcadi Espada (Barcelona, 1957) is a journalist and teaches Journalism at the UPF in Barcelona, he is also the author of Contra Catalunya (Flor del Viento, 1997), Raval (Anagrama, 2000) and Diarios (Espasa, 2002).

Footnotes 1. On December 15th 2002, the Reader’s Advocate from La Vanguardia, Josep Maria Cassasús, published an article on the subject in his usual Sunday section. The same day I sent him a letter which did not take under consideration. Here are some of its paragraphs. The arguments of the newspaper and mine are fragmented for a better understanding. La Vanguardia, Rius [ Josep Carles, Magazine’s Editor in Chief ] replies to the Reader’s Advocate: “Espada starts from absolutely wrong data when he says ‘It was enough for Bauluz to fabricate it [the photo] within a frame isolating the other figures present in the drama: policemen, doctors, shysters, assistant personnel, onlookers, bathers, and a proper perspective to put in a false closeness the bathers and the body”. Rius holds: ‘The picture is taken with no distorting perspective of reality, and any expert on photography can see it with a naked eye. The teams who moved the body away are not in the picture because, overwhelmed by what was happening those days, it took hours for them to arrive. Doctors and shysters had not just arrived.” Arcadi Espada: “About the figures: A few weeks after publishing the report, the actual supplement of La Vanguardia came back to the case. I’m surprised that you do not mention this fact on your article, but I guess that it was just in order to summarize. Anyhow, it came back to the case because there were some letters received at the office, all of them horrified, and one of them particularly horrified by the treatment received by the couple [...] The fact is that, to illustrate the letters, you used a general sight over the beach taken from the other side of the body. In that picture it can clearly be seen that there were, at least, four people dressed who were surrounding the body, who also invade the security (and respectful) circle drawn up by the Civil Guard around the body. Both circumstances —being dressed and being inside the restricted area— prove that they were not bathers, but Policy staff, lawyers, medical, etc. Whatever. [...] Regarding the distance: Bauluz delivered the newspaper another picture that you are not publishing. In fact you never did it. It is virtually identical to the general sight that I mention on

the preceding paragraph. But it has a most interesting feature: in the upper right angle you can perfectly see the couple with their sunshade. So, consequently, you can perfectly appreciate two things: that the couple were not at any moment alone with the corpse (only the Bauluz’s deceitful rhetoric allows to believe it), second and more significant, that the couple were much more distant to the body than the optical illusion Bauluz suggests.[...]” La Vanguardia: “Was not the symbolization of indifference abusively drawn as specific in this picture? Rius argues: ‘Obviously, it was not only the indifference of the couple in the photo, but certainly the picture was communicating a collective indifference. And here is the second major argument wielded by Espada, who labels the picture as purely symbolic fiction. The photo captures a fact (the couple close to the body) and the journalist knows what its context is, thus he can interpret it. So when Javier Bauluz, José Beja-rano and the Magazine editors decide to give it the symbolic value of indifference is because they know what happened that afternoon at the Zahara de los Atunes beach. ‘Because they have the information and many photos that explain what happened (some of these pictures are very unfortunate to the couple, who stayed for hours in the same place). Nothing exceptional, just what was happening almost every day, the norma-lity toward the death of immigrants that nobody had gathered because it was better to look away, within accomplice silence that someday history will throw at this country’s face. Espada was not there, nor asked those who were there.” Arcadi Espada: “The photo does not capture a fact, it makes it up. Here is the key to everything. There are many pages in Diarios about this subject and I will not spend too much on it. ‘Espada was not there’, it is true. Neither Bejarano, nor the Magazine editors or yourself. But the difference between Espada and the rest is that I have investigated —a little less than my former student Marga Zambrana— the circumstances of that noon on the beach. All assertions in Diarios are sustained by facts.[...]” La Vanguardia: “In defense of the readers I must express that reality was not distorted on that report. From January to December on 2000, the Civil Defence

services counted 263 corpses only on that part of the Cadiz coast. We the readers have the right to know the reality, although it is hurting to all of us, including journalists, to confirm about the indifference of the humane, with no geographical or cultural adjectives, in regard to the death and the other’s sorrow.” Arcadi Espada: “I can understand [...] your hard balance perfectly. It is for it that you are saying ‘that reality was not distorted on that report’. You could not ever say, and I thank you, that ‘reality was not distorted on that picture’. Because, it was distorted, thoroughly, in regard with the couple. Of course, the good intention on the report, and the evidence of that this body is embarrassing to us, are indisputable. I already understand you to say it. I agree. As I agree as well with these words: —‘the indifference of the human’—, taken out from my book almost quoted. Actually, if I have attached a picture from the Trieste beach to my reflection about The Indifference of the West, it was just to check, once again, that the rhetoric fitted into The Indifference of the West was false. Because there is a body on the beach and nobody gets upset (and there would be a lot to say on what really means not getting upset, but this is not the place), there is no need of the body to be of a Maghribian. This is, Josep Maria, what I must say to you, by now, on the issue. Now you should see how the readers can get the knowledge from all of this. It is not necessary to tell you that I am at your disposal to choose the most suitable way you consider”. 2. On 16th March, the Magazine published my reply letter that read: “Just some lines to congratulate you for including on the Sunday 2nd March edition the irrefutable evidence of the crude manipulation performed in its day on the death of a man at the Zahara de los Atunes beach. It is true that the comments along with the irrefutable sign suggest that the photographer and his editor did not understand the features yet, the implications of the mentioned manipulation. As for me, I will insist on explaining them. But, anyway, their difficulties only imply that they can repeat another manipulation as such: as for the subject of concern, the truth is now safe and it is fair to emphasize on it.”

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General Sight Over the Beach  

Arcadi Espada on Javier Bauluz's Indifference of the West

General Sight Over the Beach  

Arcadi Espada on Javier Bauluz's Indifference of the West

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