In the deeply depopulated territory known as “Spanish Siberia”, Alicante photographer José Luis Carrillo has been trapped “like an insect in a web”. He became hostage to the natural beauty of the places he encountered near the source of the Tagus, the historical depth and anthropological wealth of the region, the “simplicity and honesty” of those who Inhabit them – people whose genetic and cultural heritage dates back to the Celtic occupation of the region, dating back to the late Bronze Age in the 17th century BC in an interview. “These are the Sons of the Stag.” Or Children of the Deer, as he titled the set of images he is currently exhibiting in Braga, as part of the International Image Photography Festival.
Five years ago, in June 2015, on his first trip to Armallones, the photographer planned to stay only three weeks, but ended up staying two months. In the small pueblo, 60 inhabitants are officially registered. “But when I was there, actually 24 people were living. And there are only eight left to get through the winter. On the next trip, in November of the same year, instead of two months, as he had predicted, José took four months to leave the village of Checa, which has about 60 inhabitants in summer and 30 to 40 in period. cold. “We are talking about an extremely low population density, one inhabitant per square meter – even lower than that of Siberia.”
During José Luis Carrillo’s numerous stays – which totaled nine months of stay – the mountain, the forest, became his home. Sleeping under the dense grove, exposed to thermal amplitude and impenetrable darkness, raised “ancestral fears” that he did not know. “It is difficult to live in these conditions,” he recalls. “The first night of the first winter I spent there, it was minus 13 degrees.” The thermal amplitude in the region can reach 30 degrees centigrade in a single day. “On a summer day it could be 35 degrees at noon and only eight at night.”
At first, Carillo felt lost, disoriented; he was not able to immediately “catch” the essence of what he wanted to document. The loneliness, the cold, the hardness of the terrain and the timidity of the inhabitants hampered his mission. “I mostly found people who are used to living alone and who are therefore not very open to contact with others. The disunity that exists between them, the inhabitants of each village, was also an obstacle for the photographer. “As they say in Spain, ‘pueblo pequeño, infierno grande’. In other words, although the villages have very few inhabitants, it is common to see them angry with each other. And if I spoke to some, others didn’t want to have any more contact with me. But over time and “with a lot of tact”, the inhabitants began to open up more and to trust him. “They are very honest and very sincere people,” he observes.
The photographer’s contact with a family of “neo-rural” people, in the village of Armallones, changed the course of the project. Alfonso, Pilar and their sons, with Celtic names, Vael, Oter and Velian, made the ancient heritage of the surrounding areas more evident. And the family’s way of life, simple and in close connection with nature, inspired the photographer.
From then on, José Luis began to “physically feel the Celtic past”: “the castros, the ancient cemeteries, the sacred woods and the glades where the rituals were practiced and which continue today to be places where the festivities of the village ”appear in the images he made. Just like stones and trees, which the inhabitants treat by their own name, as if they were people, and which serve as landmarks in the old paths. All people and things are thus transformed into characters in Carillo’s photographic account. “Giving names to living and non-living beings, created by humans or not, is a reflection of the animist culture so characteristic of the Celts,” he explains.
“But the figure of the stag, the stag, which is a collective obsession, was the one that caught my attention the most.” It is possible to find representations of this animal throughout the territory, he guarantees. “There are deer heads on the walls of schools, health centers, shops, houses. Deer have been an object of worship throughout this region for thousands of years. And this ancient love is also evident in the ancient stones where the figure is carved, and which the photographer had “the privilege” to document. “Some of these inscriptions are secret, they are only known to archaeologists in the region. To be in front of them, to photograph them, it was fascinating. It made me feel small, facing so much time, so many lives, so much heritage. They give meaning to all of history up to modernity.
The images of Enfants du Cerf offer the viewer a journey from the era of the caves to modernity. “I feel that I received a price, a gift, in exchange for all the suffering I felt during the realization of this project. I was able to watch the story closely. I hope that people can watch it, like me, through my images and that they can reflect a bit on the loss of contact between man and nature. Being in harmony with nature is not incompatible with modernity and there is no reason for us not to respect or preserve it.