Mark Parascandola’s photos tell the strange, melancholy story of the erection, disintegration, and repurposing of the 1960s film sets.
Franco’s transformation of Almería from desolate, quiet land to site of American imperialism depended on a perfect storm of economic, political, and social conditions. Franco hoped to reinvigorate a Spanish economy broken by the Civil War, and Hollywood studios needed cheap labor and exciting filming locations that might entice international audiences. In 1964, the Spanish government allowed for production crews and equipment to freely move through the country, and, in 1968, an airport was built in Almería to accommodate the influx of American filmmakers.
The United States government also played a role in this narrative — it remained complicit with Franco’s oppressive regime in an effort retain an ally against the Soviet Union. With these factors taken together, Hollywood executives readily capitalized on Almería’s promise of a desert-like setting — one that could feasibly pass for terrains of the American West, the Arabian Desert, North Africa, and the moon — as well as the exploitation of impoverished Roma people who worked as extras in many of these movies.
Today, some of these famed sets of the 1960s remain intact and function as tourist attractions atop the still largely desolate terrain.
In Once Upon A Time In Almería, Parascandola captures the ghostliness that permeates even the sunniest of environments. His photos, taken between 2011 and 2016, tell the melancholy story of the erection, disintegration, and repurposing of these sets, and the ways in which the filmmaking storyline is a part of Almería’s long history of witnessing and reckoning with ephemeral civilizations. Some photos depict untouched landscape — hills, palms, sea, and sand. Still others display the ancient ruins and 10th-century castles left behind by other transitory residents of Almería.
“These ruins also serve as a reminder of the impermanence of our ties to the landscape, and as evidence of the economic and social changes that drive human migration, including that of my own family,” Parascandola writes in his essay in Once Upon A Time In Almería.