The sleeve of Crystal Castles' new album “(III)” features a photo by Samuel Aranda, the Spanish photo journalist who won the prestigious 2012 World Press Photo. We talk to him about his relationship with the Canadian duo.
2012 is turning out to be the most successful year, professionally speaking, for the winner of the most recent World Press Photo, Samuel Aranda. The experienced photo journalist from Santa Coloma de Gramenet received maximum recognition in his profession, thanks to the shot he took of Fátima and Said in a mosque in Saná, Yemen. Now one of the best assets of the New York Times, he also recently made an internationally controversial photo report showing the ugliest side of the present socio-economic crisis in Spain. We spoke to him about these recent events, but most of all about Crystal Castles' surprising choice to take his prize winning photo as the artwork for the much awaited and devastating new album “(III)”.
We were all taken by surprise when Crystal Castles chose your award winning photo as the artwork for “(III)”. How did that come about?
Universal Music called me up and asked me to work with them. At first I said no, because I didn't really see the commercial goal for the photo, but they said it was a personal request of the singer [Alice Glass]. She got in touch with me herself shortly after, and we talked about the idea behind the record, a protest against dictatorships and authoritarianism. I got a good feeling from that conversation, so I accepted and sold them the rights.
"I'm proud they chose my photo, knowing what their ideals are, and that we're on the same level politically"
Did Alice have to insist a lot before you caved?
It wasn't that I didn't want to do it at first, but I simply didn't really know whether I should accept without knowing what the project was about. Before speaking to her I was worried about how the image was going to be used. Imagine if they had used it to criticise the Arab world or to say all Muslims are terrorists! So I wanted to know what the songs were about, and I got that information when I talked to her.
Did you know their music?
No. My musical tastes are very classic.
Is it a problem for you that your image is now part of the band's merchandising, and becomes some kind of a new aesthetic reference in pop culture?
Not at all, I'm proud they chose my photo, knowing what their ideals are, and that we're on the same level politically and otherwise. What worried me was that they were going to exploit the photo commercially. But as said, as soon as we talked about it personally, I noticed we think alike, and it was easy to come to an agreement.
Do you like what they did to the image?
Well, I understand they need to do these kinds of artistic things. I thought it was going to be more classic, but I don't dislike it.
After this year of maximum international recognition of your work as a photo journalist, what do you expect will happen after the record comes out?
Not too much, I hope [laughs]. The main thing is that the efforts of a group of musicians come together with photography to denounce the present situation in Yemen. That's good.
How do you think Fatima and Said, the two on the photo, will take all this?
I think they'll be alright with it, they're really easy-going and open-minded people. From the start, when I won the World Press Photo and I was a bit confused when I got all that money and everything, they made it clear to me that they were proud to be on that photo, and that they didn't expect anything in return, as they had already become a symbol for the Yemen revolution. I'm still in touch with them a lot.
"To tell you the truth I thought the news was only going to interest my colleagues"
When you clicked, did you imagine all the repercussion it would have in the end?
Unfortunately, I'm rather used to these kinds of scenes in the Arab world, of people suffering and women having to take care of their families. In these societies it's the women who carry the weight, in spite of what everyone on the outside may think. The woman is very important, despite the whole burka controversy. When I took the photo I didn't think it was more important than the others, it was just part of the dynamics of working in a conflict situation. However, when I sent it to New York they said it was really good, and that it reflected something different. When I won the prize, I did start to think it would become what it has, an icon of the Arab Spring.
Does the fact that your name is now associated with World Press Photo mean big changes for you?
Yes, it does, because it opens many doors, professionally, and it has given me the chance to go ahead with the projects I've always wanted to do. But apart from that, little more. It's been a year full of interviews and conferences. When it's over, I'm going back to work.
How did you find out they were giving you the award?
The president of the jury called me the night before they were going to make it public. They said they were going to announce it the next morning at ten, and that I should prepare to receive a lot of phone calls and so on. To tell you the truth I thought the news was only going to interest my colleagues. I didn't imagine the repercussions outside of the photography world.
I suppose the fact that not many Spanish photographers have won the prize in the past has been of influence as well...
It's just Manuel Pérez Barriopedro and his photo of Tejero in the Spanish Congress in 1981, and me. So, yes, I suppose so.
You've been based in Tunisia so far, but I'm not sure if you are going to stay there, or if you'll be showing your face in Spain more.
I'm working on it. I still have to figure out where I'm going to live now, but I will definitely keep working in the Arab world, as I feel quite at home there.
There's been quite some controversy recently around a report you did for the New York Times, about the socio-economic situation in Spain right now. Why do you think it caused such divided opinions? Was it maybe because we're afraid to be shown the unfiltered truth about what's happening around us?
80% of the mails and reactions I got are positive, as are those from many families who thanked us for showing this. Regarding the response in the media, well, the media are what they are, they've submitted to what the government tells them.
"Our work as photo journalists is to document what's happening, reality. Aesthetics come later"
Do you think it would have been possible to publish the report in a Spanish newspaper or magazine?
I never thought about doing that. I'm not exactly an admirer of American culture, but we are light-years away from the freedom of press in the USA.
How does the production of such a report work? Do they give you directions, or do you have total freedom to do whatever you want?
When it started it was only going to be about the evictions. I started working with the editor of the report, and one of the first places we visited was [Spanish Catholic charity organisation] Caritas. They were the first to tell us about the amount of people having problems buying food. We started to look for more, and when we visited other associations and social canteens, we realised that there is a real problem with many people not having the means to pay for food. We never said it was the whole Spanish society. But the numbers don't lie: there used to be 100,000 people living in poverty in this country, and now they're almost one million. Those who don't want to see that reality, well, let them live on in their bubble.
What's more important in a photo, what you see, or the aesthetic quality?
Our work as photo journalists is to document what's happening, reality. Aesthetics come later. If the image is good, it's obviously going to attract more people, but aesthetics should never come before reality.