Updated: Sep 14
In Conversation with Joseph Fox
Joseph Fox is a freelance photographer based in Madrid, who has worked across a range of local and national magazines covering a broad spectrum of subjects from sports, politics to social and environmental issues. His collection of photographs titled "Coches Quemados" (translated as Burned Cars) focuses on the incidental side-effects of the on-going environmental crisis in Almeria, Spain. Intense tourism, agricultural and industrial activity, and a mixture of human and geographical factors have aligned to cause deeply damaging desertification. Scarred and peeling cars are a common feature of this scorched region. Their blistered bonnets and eroded frames create abstract and unsettling forms that can be conceived of as a warning for things to come. "Coches Quemados" offers a unique perspective into a microcosm of new and disturbing climatic frontiers that combines photographic vision with environmental concerns.
Anthroposphere: How did the peeling cars come to be the subjects of your photographs?
Joseph Fox (JF): I noticed them first during the quarantine while visiting friends in Almeria, which is a province in the south of Spain. But now I notice them more often and they are actually present in quite a lot of places, even here in Madrid since we have hot summers. Every car that is over twenty-years old is basically peeling.
What has emerged as the primary cause for the peeling of the cars?
JF: Two-thirds of Spain is under the risk of desertification. The climate crisis in Spain has been exacerbated by bad management of resources and water management. Erosion due to monocultures, loss of topsoil destroys fertility and creates large expanses of deserted areas.
It’s a combination of all of these factors – the soaring temperatures, the lack of water, and industrial activity. I thought it was kind of interesting that cars and transport have a role to play in the climate crisis and seeing them erode is kind of ironic.
What role do industrial and agricultural activity play in this context?
JF: Thousands of hectares of monocultures and olive groves have increased the demand for water. There have been accusations of corruption and stories of people taking water illegally from wells. Huge centres of tourism such as Benidorm [have emerged] and they want to give the impression that these places are lush, beautiful, exotic, where people can enjoy their Spanish holiday. Twenty-two trillion litres of water a year are used in Benidorm. Water is pumped from the north to the south leading to social problems for people who live by the reservoirs that supply the water.
There is a tussle between the central government and big cities on the one hand, and the reservoirs where the water comes from on the other.
Is there a connection between the population rise in these areas, the need for more water, and the subsequent erosion of cars?
JF: Cheap flights to Benidorm, an increasing workforce, and water for golf courses are some apparent issues. A border between Madrid and Murcia is like a wall which takes you from green spaces to a place that feels post-apocalyptic. Everything is brown and scorched.
Is the visual ubiquity of the cars changing local narratives on climate change?
JF: When you talk to people from the area, they do have a problem with the drought [but] because climate change is so incremental and slow-paced, people are used to seeing these things.
I know that Murcia University is trying to develop drought-hardy crops. If they stop transporting water to the south of Spain then it wouldn’t be called the ‘Garden of Europe’ as it is right now. So they have to think of another way of creating a local economy. The issue goes back to Franco’s regime since he had a close relationship with the province of Murcia to the east. In exchange for water and resources, the region sent troops to support the regime. A waterway was also built between Madrid and Murcia and it goes all the way down to the south now. There’s a political background to it as well.
Has the Spanish government responded to these concerns or initiated relevant programmes?
JF: In the south of Spain, I think not. It’s a complicated situation because if you stop extracting water then the economy dies. They’ve created a space called Madrid Central where you cannot drive in the centre, like in London. The agricultural lobby is very powerful and it is embedded in the Spanish people that they are cultivators of vegetables, of crops, so everyone wants to look after the farmers.
The tussle is between the central government and big cities on the one hand, and where the water comes from (the reservoirs) on the other. Because we have a federal system where every province has its own laws, it means that there are many inter municipality tussles. It is quite historical.
Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?
JF: I wanted to add that aesthetically what I tried to do was photograph closeups and attempt to observe unusual, abstract patterns. Some photos were a little pulled back with bits of the sky visible, while one can see reflections of the camera’s flash mimicking the sun.
Joseph Fox is an award-winning documentary photographer and graduate from the Commercial Photographic BA (Hons) course at The Arts University College of Bournemouth. Joseph’s work has appeared in The Guardian, Vice, The Sunday Times and New York Times amongst others. His interest in literature and film drives the narrative quality of his images, allowing stories to be instantaneously communicative. Focusing on contemporary moral and social issues in westernised society, he investigates concepts such as environment, identity, and socio-political structures within an ever-changing British society.