Sometimes it can feel so tempting to jack in all the trappings of modern life – expensive city rent, relentless digital connections, soy matcha lattes and the like – and escape into the wilderness. While it might sound utopian, the reality is often a rather more rag-tag story, as a beautiful and eye-opening series of photographs by Ben Murphy, The Riverbed, shows.
Murphy spent a decade documenting remote mountainous encampments in south east Spain, where a bunch of “neo-nomadic outsiders” comprising punks, hippies, anarchists, ravers and “new travellers” have made their rudimentary homes from trucks, tents and other basic structures. It’s a fascinating glimpse into what counterculture can really mean today; and the less idealised, but perhaps more politically motivated rural alternatives to urban life.
The images feel almost poignant in the stillness they capture: we see homes, but not people – and the absence of human subjects forces a quiet contemplation of the scenery and the places that these outsiders have made their lives within. According to Murphy, those living in these spots along the banks of river beds or off mountain passes have traveled from as far afield as North and South America and Japan, as well as the rest of Europe.
“The intention of the work is to reflect contemporary counter-cultural identities through dwelling space,” the photographer explains. “The work aims to consider values and expectations of home, society and notions of freedom, while drawing out some of the inevitable paradoxes, compromises and entanglements inherent in rejecting the dominant system when trying to live an alternative life on the margins of the mainstream.”
The Riverbed will be one show at The Architectural Association in London from 18 – 31 March and 19 April – 27 May this year.