Lambs to the Slaughter: A Photo Series about a Young Lost Generation
Together with students from Latvia, photographer Alvaro Gomez-Pidal went to depopulated mountain villages, where he shot a project about young generations who are self-searching in the nature, among the sheep.
Born in Madrid. Studied psychology and cinematography. Works as a photographer and cinematographer for short films and TV ads. His series “Ethylic Nights” was shortlisted for Sony World Photography Awards 2015.
— This project explores the search of self independence, identity and meaning within European youth, when that youth is placed outside their usual city environment. The huge uncertainty of the times my generation is going through. Youth trying to find themselves and help guide others without the need of a flock, shepherd and dog.
It takes place in different rural areas and villages whose vacant houses and places represent a far cry of the times in which humble villagers did not have so many doubts about their future unlike our present generation has. An unclear Europe whose young ones seem to need to reconnect with nature as they ask themselves: When democracy, religion and family are no longer our pillars, where do we set our foot? What is independence, identity, happiness and beauty when we are controlled by media and corporations? What is the future we want? Do we even know? Are we just lambs following the flock down to the slaughterhouse?
I joined an Erasmus program with Latvian students. We spent a week at a cast off village in the mountains. One of these places where time has its own appeased metronome. One of the dates came to be May 4th, the Latvian independence day from the former Soviet Union. That was 26 years ago. A country a little younger than me with an elderly population. I found among them a deep need for identity that led them to show us their traditions and customs and behaviors. With a strong sense of responsibility not to follow the example of their elders drowning in alcohol issues.
We lived in a town full of abandoned and collapsed houses. An old echo from the past renewed by our youth in our explorational wandering. Sheep were an important part of that town. We came across many bones. Where there are sheep there are always bones. But not only death and decay surrounded us, newborn lambs as well. Seemingly pure, white and soft. Stained in blood. The sheep population felt more active than the human one.
Coming from cities relates to the flock. Following the flock through the crowded sidewalks and subway trains. Alienated all going to their unstable jobs everyday. Cities have less sense of community and more individuality but ironically resemble the flock better.
In front of a village wall stood a Latvian boy. Roman had a Palestinian-like scarf. Along with the old wall not unlike the new walls rising in the Middle East. Where another youth has to face an old-man’s war.
Death was embraced with tenderness on our explorations. The ones gone having p meaning in the future. Sheep bones were our amulets. Elena and Laima found a skull and caressed it like a real treasure of death and fate.
Vacant houses were dangerous and filled with surprises. Rotten rafters leaving the stars visible. See the stars where there is no hope of finding life at all.
One evening I heard a mourning sheep down the road. The thorn bushes where shaking. I knew what I had to do. I took a wet strong stick from the lumber pile and ran down the hill. I started crushing the thorn vines in anger until the tangled sheep was visible. Then, like a psychopath, I stopped to take a photograph of the suffering being. After two takes I continued until it was free and it ran away down to the bottom of the valley where the flock sleeps. I saved it from a starving fate but not from the one that was about to come in the thorns and spikes of the slaughterhouse. We think we are freed but still we follow the flock along to the hooks and throat knives.
Only the local kids would play hunting with the sling. Hitting birds and their nests. We are taught to kill, to hunt the weak and stalk prays for no particular reason. It is just a game we play or do we play it on ourselves as well?
One cold windy day I started climbing up the hill. There was a flock by the almond trees on the top. A shepherd dog standing by. Light rain struck with a vicious strong wind hitting hard. I stood on top of a rock and felt the wind cutting freeze my skin. It was painful but I just stood there, stared at the horizon thinking. And as a revelation I realized I had long forgotten something. Wasn’t that some kind of happiness too? It was. That natural lone setting was healing.
Vultures were stalking from above. I carefully approached the flock till they got used to me and was surrounded by it. I was struck by the color red. Newborn lambs had just slipped out of two wombs. Mothers covered in blood licking their babies, umbilical cords hanging down. The little lambs looked dead for several minutes. Then stood up for their first steps. There came the shepherd in a metaphor of life and grabbed them by the back legs. Dropped the newborns on the back of a truck. Separated them from their mothers meant to fulfill another fate.
Mateo, the son of Iraida, accompanied us. It seemed like a symbolic representation of the generation coming after. Will he understand the world better than we do? Or would he just be like those newborn lambs with a written fate? Are we able to guide him to explore the world’s dark and beautiful waters of life?
Katrina stared for a long time at the lamb stew. Stirred the pot a few times, reluctant to eat. Was that meat from the lambs that just passed by earlier that morning?
On the bar there was a trophy head of a big deer. For everyone to see the achievements of some strong against the innocent. Are we sometimes like hunted animals for the powerful to enjoy?
Unlike the innocence of the hunting greyhound Rita that came with us. She brought a little dead bird trying to show loyalty. It was a present from tamed instincts. Rita was like a child after all. Killing or not. She always remains innocent. Unlike us.
Eliza was so shy she made me shiver. When I portrayed her, my hands were shaking for breaking such shyness into the beautiful and timeless. Later, she would understand that talking fluidly is not expressing, most of the times it isn’t. But from the bottom of her eyes I see some kind of mysterious hope.
I try and look ahead in the darkened haze of our times. My eyes are never clear and I hide myself under a hat.
José looked older, tired. Resembling a miner that could have been working there back then. The mines had shut down many decades ago. The coal was all gone. Now hunting and drinking were the only activities left in the village.
We choose drinking. Maybe that is what the world wants. Our sedated youth to be unconscious, innocent and easy to hunt. But can we help it when we want peace?
The flock just follows, wanders without will and always full of fear.
In Palestine, Christians told me that in the Bible people are often associated with a flock of sheep, with God as the shepherd. Who is the shepherd that guides us safely to the slaughterhouse?