A roving eye

LAST UPDATED: 27 May, 2007 @ 09:24
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Documentary photographer Jaine Laine is focusing on Spain’s past to create a legacy for the future.

JAINE LAINE flings her trademark giant handbag on a chair, orders café con leche and rolls a skinny cigarette. We are sitting at a corner table in the bar of the Hotel Miramar in Lanjarón and she is telling me about her trip to Valencia a couple of weeks ago.

The typically quixotic quest involved two spartan eight-hour rail journeys, a hotel room in a decommissioned brothel, and a hunt for Alaquas, Lanjaron’s official twin town, a distinction about which nobody in either town seems to know anything.

“When I got there it was nothing like Lanjarón anyway,” says Jaine, “although it does have a beautiful 16th century castle that the town uses as a cultural centre. But I was lucky enough to have arrived during their annual fiesta, so I did capture a paella street party and a wedding.” Is Jaine happy with the modest outcome of her trip? “Oh yes. I’m going to mix these pictures with shots of everyday life here in Lanjarón, for a show about the twin towns in my own gallery next month.”

Jaine works as she has always done, with 35 millimetre black and white film, developing negatives in her own darkroom. It seems an almost monkish approach in this souped-up digital age. The picture = thousand words equation is powerfully borne out here: visit popular pub-restaurant Bar Health in Lanjarón and you will clearly see Jaine’s passion for what she calls “documentary photography, recording people in their own environment.” This fascination has supplied her with inspiration and direction for many years behind the camera and generated some fascinating community initiatives in the places she has called home.

Apple in scouse

One of her earlier projects was based on another set of twin towns, albeit on a slightly larger scale than the current project. “I put together black and white images of New York and Liverpool for a show called 50/50,” she says. The exhibition venue was the handsome circular Picton Reading Room, part of Liverpool’s Central Library, built in the city’s Victorian heyday. “I wanted something different from the usual framed photographs hanging on the walls, so I got each pair of shots mounted in flat museum display cases,” says Jaine. In quirky contrast, another of Jaine’s shows featured top-down views of London’s finest bus shelters taken from the upper decks of the city’s famous red buses. “It was a great way of showing people interacting with architecture in London’s communities,” explains Jaine.

But it is not just big-city adrenalin that gets Jaine’s trigger finger going. A project close to her heart was the community photo archive and permanent exhibition she created in the old Gaiety Cinema when she lived in the pretty village of Appledore in North Devon a few years ago. Opening up the almost derelict building was like taking the lid off an ornate box of memories from the 1930s to the 1960s, and Jaine relished recording them all. “The oldest residents remembered being smuggled in under granny’s long skirts to see the latest releases, and there were lots of wartime stories,” she says. “When we managed to get hold of an eight-millimetre projector and showed a Charlie Chaplin film, somebody even started playing the piano!” Hundreds of visitors turned up on the opening night, reaffirming Jaine’s conviction that many people do treasure a shared past.

Past in the present

It is this community involvement and energy that Jaine is hoping to recapture in La Alpujarra, and with an even greater sense of urgency. “We can all see the old ways of working, getting around and getting together are changing fast,” she says, frowning with intensity. “Even the fruit and vegetables grown in the campo are changing in line with the changing climate. And it’s all just slipping through our fingers, nobody is cherishing it.” But Jaine has faith in the strong family values that still form the basis of cultural and social life in the area. “I think there’s still a feeling here that the younger generation can learn from their elders, that there’s something worth passing on,” she says more cheerfully, “and I’m really excited about facilitating that.”

Alongside the twin towns project, Jaine will soon be starting to collect old and new photographs from the residents of Lanjarón, her adopted hometown since 2005. These pictures will be stored in a permanent public-access archive in the town and form the basis of a show, launching in Órgiva this October, and an accompanying book. “I’m going to invite contributions not just from lifelong residents, but also from ex-pats who have made Lanjarón their home, even from tourists,” says Jaine. “It’s all about seeing the town through different real-life perspectives rather than glossy professional shots.”

Lanjarón and Órgiva are just the first stop. Jaine plans to travel to all the towns in La Alpujarra, helping them to set up local mini-archives as well as contributing photographs to the wider Alpujarra collection. “I can set up mini picture shows in local bars with a laptop and projector, explain what I’m looking for and record the information that goes with each image I am given,” she explains.

Continuing her theme of photography in the community, Jaine is also about to launch a series of three-day self-portrait workshops in Lanjarón. “I’m going to ask participants to bring in photographs of themselves taken by family members, so we can explore the way other people view us,” says Jaine. “Then we’ll create self-portraits from found objects and from photographs we take during the course. There’s even a big dressing-up box! It’s going to be a mixture of fun and insights.”

Talking about the workshops seems to have given Jaine a renewed burst of energy. Stubbing out her cigarette and gathering up her bag, she is off and running. Preserving the past and present in pictures for the future is the most important thing she can think of, and there is no time to lose.

For more information about Jaine’s Self-Portrait workshops, you can email her at [email protected]

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