Enrique Fraga – Terminal

All of the blank pages are black. I turn to a new spread – the left-hand page shows a dimly-lit hotel corridor, the ceiling spotlights all disappearing off towards the image’s horizon. I am reading the book indoors, in a room with lights similar to those on the page, and, against the shiny, jet-black ink of that blank right-hand page, those lights reflect, as though I somehow also stand in that corridor. The next picture is also of a corridor; the carpet is different. 

The images of nude bodies in the beds – possibly one-night stands, possibly a partner – are all distant. They all slumber in the darkness, turned away from the window or the bulb.

In this world, light dresses the things it strikes like a skin upon their surfaces, illuminating what it hits against an otherwise uniform backdrop, as though selecting out –with pointed finger– a figure from a crowd. Light sources feel like beacons to this photographer, being the only thing in this book that offers something approximating familiarity or comfort. A soft glow to welcome, to warm.

Light sources feel like beacons to this photographer — a soft glow to welcome, to warm.

As hinges between destinations, airports do not grant one permission to really settle. Their architecture alternates between the open-plan waiting areas, where nobody stays but for a transition to another area of like kind, and between the corridors of movement that connect them. In the first, the sun’s light rakes through panel windows, giving a warmer tone and some natural heat to these plain floors and seat-rows. The second comprises maze-corridors illuminated at regular intervals by soft artificial lights, lightly spotting those who walk below them. On the planes, the seats and lights and alleys and even staff are all engineered to appear uniform, invariable. The same applies for the passengers, of which we only see those travelling for work. The businessman who in his excessive formality loses any identifiable marks of personality or self feels here like an organic counterpart to these inorganic places. 

Places such as these are often described by folks in academia as “non-places” for their lack of an identifiable culture: customers merely pass through them, without the time to form or share an identity. It’s true that, for one who works in such a place, this definition doesn’t apply well, for the place is then given a cultural body by those who spend their days labouring there. But what about the business travellers, the itinerant workers who eternally pass though, but never in one fixed position — the in-between of both? Enrique Fraga’s images successfully evoke this intermediary way of life even in the absence of much more than a nod to his personal circumstance.

In Terminal, those “suits” feel like an analog to this “in-between” complication to the idea of non-places. Almost every photograph of a person in this book is facing or looking away, asleep, or otherwise obscured and inaccessible. The only point in the entire sequence where this is not the case is one of a hotel-room TV, with some television star staring out of the screen. Given the extent to which Farga photographs unaware – anonymous – figures in this work, it seems that, if he is one of them, it is a shared identity, held together by the distance they hold to one another. The lifestyles and customs – the rituals we might otherwise think of as just “checking in” – are established through picture after picture of watches, suits and hotel floors.

The vast majority of the subjects in these photographs are not shown in their best light; what makes this book work when it does are colour, type, place more than image. It is not really a “documentary” or a “confessional diary” photography project, insofar as what makes it effective has more to do with those things.

Terminal may be more interesting sociologically than as a book of individual pictures, yet is captivating for the way light features in it. Those soft transitions between light and dark –simple changes in the kind of illumination being shown– can be powerful in the raw emotional response they evoke in me, and the sense of alienation, distance that Fraga’s sequencing brings about is technically refined. At points, Fraga seems to almost put the idea of representing subject matter aside, in favour of light being a driving force in its own right.

At other times, Terminal can seem an extremely programmatic work, likely due to the nature of Fraga’s travel schedule — but also, I believe, because of the survey-like attention to detail he seems to exhibit. When I read it like this, there is little room for sentiment and there are few real symbolic gestures — the businessman’s slick hair doesn’t seem to signify the business ‘type’, because it is the business type. The EXIT sign, warm orange against blue then just demonstrates a type of light in a narrowly-defined set of observations. The hand that reaches up to the spotlight button is of course a beautiful picture, and it is true that there are other excellent images qua images here, but in this way, that appreciation can also be a more romantic one that masks the distant, clinical reality behind these images. That may well be the point to that clash of interpretation — that, looking down upon the earth, the lights of the city can look truly beautiful, yet some experiences of beauty can nonetheless make one feel profoundly alone — at which point that aesthetic pleasure then becomes substituted by something more analytical.

Dalpine, 2021