After the economic crisis in Argentina in 2002, Sebastián Bruno’s family moved to a small town in Castilla La Mancha in central Spain. It was then that the photographer decided to re-read Don Quixote, the iconic 17th-century novel about a traveller who slowly converts from hero to bandit. The tale was foremost in Bruno’s mind when he returned to the region years later to retrace the 2500km route of the fictional legend, while studying for a BA in Documentary Photography at the University of South Wales in Newport.
“I thought it was a beautiful metaphor to re-interpret,” he says. “I was walking, cycling and hitchhiking, but no one ever really stopped. The landscape was very flat, the sun was hot and there was not a single tree to hide under.”
The region is home to an aging population, living in secluded towns surrounded by barren land, and the attitudes of many of the inhabitants are extremely conservative, even backward. Their portraits and peculiar scenes of daily life are the subjects of his series Duelos y Quebrantos, named after the region’s traditional dish of meat, eggs and lambs’ brains.
Drawing inspiration from the places where he felt most uncomfortable, Bruno made eight trips back to La Mancha over the following three years. “The way I work is by instinct,” he says. “I have to feel something, so that I can respond to it. The places I hated were always the ones I wanted to go to more and more.”
Before coming to study in Wales, the photographer was a student of cinematography. In the same way that film sets are constructed, Bruno is fascinated by playful compositions where the authenticity of their arrangement is not always clear. The content and uncertainty of his images, as well as the choice of black-and-white, gives the series a timeless quality. “La Mancha is historically stagnated so black-and-white works really well,” he says. “Some of the pictures look like they could have been taken long ago.”
sebastianbruno.com Duelos y Quebrantos was published in May 2018 by ediciones anómalas, priced €35. The book was shortlisted for the Arles Author Book Award www.edicionesanomalas.c
Sebastian Bruno’s new series, Light Breaks, is on show from 05-07 October in Hiraeth, the University of South Wales MA Documentary Photography Graduate Exhibition, T4, Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, London E1 6QR instagram@madocphotusw