Juan Pablo Garnham is the Urban Affairs reporter for The Texas Tribune. Previously, he was the editor of CityLab Latino, senior producer of the podcast In the Thick and he has also worked for El Diario and NY1 Noticias, in New York. In his home country of Chile, he worked as a reporter for Qué Pasa magazine and El Mercurio newspaper.
“We need to remember these places, what we did here and what we should learn for the future,” says photographer Markel Redondo. “We need to know that these buildings are still there.”
Markel Redondo started noticing them when he was in Andalucia in 2008. Hundreds of empty houses and apartments across the south of Spain, unsold projects that had become ghost towns waiting for owners that would never come. “It was the time of the crisis,” the 39-year-old photographer from Bilbao remembers. “Many developers went bankrupt.”
After a decade of astonishing growth in the housing market, the bubble had burst. Unemployment climbed to 20 percent in 2008, peaking in 2013 at 27 percent with heavy losses in the construction sector. Housing prices would eventually decrease in 37 percent between 2007 and 2013. Redondo became obsessed with these empty neighborhoods which had come to symbolize what was wrong with Spain’s economy. He started driving around the country looking for them for what would become his photo series, “Sand Castles.” A decade later, he has published the second part of the project, “Sand Castles (Part II).”
“I always thought that it would be interesting to see what would happen here in the future, when the crisis would come to an end,” Redondo says. “Little by little, I got to the idea to take photos from up in the air, which would finally allow you to see the magnitude of this.”
Redondo received a DJI Drone Photography Award, which gave him a grant that financed a new tour around Spain, this time using drones to capture aerial photos and video.
“Many of these sites are now locked down or there is security. And from the ground I was always frustrated because I didn’t had a shooting angle that would give a general perspective,” Redondo explains. “From the air this all becomes easier to understand.”
In three weeks, the photographer went to 12 sites around the country, many of them in the south. From an aesthetic point of view, he was surprised by what he found: “staircases going nowhere, strange shapes, the geometries of the roof of a house. These are little treasures that before where imperceptible for me.”
“In Spain, you don’t talk about these sites anymore,” Redondo explains. “They are far from the cities, a little lost from plain sight. And politicians are always telling us that Spain is better—that we are growing again.” These projects remain there as scars in the landscape, without plans to either finish them or demolish them.
“Nobody wants to be responsible of this,” the photographer adds. “We need to remember these places, what we did here and what we should learn for the future. We need to know that these buildings are still there.”