Feria del Caballo
As captured by Roefs, the riders of the pristinely groomed horses are reminiscent of a bygone era, with both children and adults dressed in vivid flamenco dresses, cropped jackets, wide-brimmed hats and ruffled blouses. Roef’s continued interest in cultural traditions is displayed through the encapsulation of the instilled traditions amongst the people of Spain despite modern developments.
Amongst the sea of people, Roefs individualises the protagonist in each photo, displaying each traditionally-clad reveller posing in front of tower blocks, representing their undying culture amid the ever increasing modernity of their surroundings. This integration of the old and new originates from Roefs’ desire to change perspective on the familiarities of traditional Spanish culture, transforming a collective identity into that of a group of individuals who all offer a personal history.
The town’s Feria del Caballo - horse fair - is a tradition that goes back to medieval times, when buyers and sellers gathered in Jerez to trade in the finest horses. Afterward, they’d drink to celebrate deals made. Today, only the festivities remain, lasting an entire week in May.
Bordering the sand lanes where the horses prance, are dozens of ‘casetas’, tents where fairgoers can enjoy food and drinks. A favorite among locals: a Rebujito, fino sherry wine mixed with soda. The casetas are hosted by local community organizations, ranging from sports clubs to political parties and church congregations.
Whereas at other fairs you need to be a card-carrying member to enter the casetas, the tents in Jerez are open to all. ‘If anyone refuses you entry, call the police’, 43-year old Javier reminds visitors as he passes by - a Rebujito in one hand and the reins of his horse in the other.
Visitors hop on and off the wagons that ride in endless circles around the fairgrounds. Children dressed as flamboyantly as their parents dance and jump around as music blares from the casetas. ‘Busy places like these, where people are celebrating, allow me to disappear in the crowd’, says Roefs (1993), who has a particular fascination for lasting cultural traditions. ‘My aim is to distill a peaceful image from the chaos.’
Despite its bustling scene, Jerez’ feria is smaller and less well-known than the Feria de Abril in neighboring Seville, an event that also features horses and is popular among tourists. As such, the festivities in Jerez never lost their distinct, local character. ‘I was struck by the pride the participants took in their tradition', says Roefs. 'They take it very seriously. To them, the feria is no carnival and their outfits aren’t costumes.’
To an outsider, the scenes at the fair offer an all-too-familiar image of Spanish culture. The challenge for Roefs: turning the faceless revelers in this recognizable setting into individuals again. ‘I want to find something new in a setting people already know so well’, the Amsterdam-based photographer says. ‘Anyone who looks at my photos has to be confounded, if only for a second, about the time and place where the images are set. They have to be made curious about the story behind them.'
photography EVA ROEFS
words MILLIE FOSTER PRICE
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