Benidorm’s “radioactive” beauty

After conquering Instagram, María Moldes’ Martin Parr-influenced images go on show

A man exercises on the beach at Benidorm.
A man exercises on the beach at Benidorm.María Moldes

The Spanish seaside resort of Benidorm is making waves on Instagram thanks to the work of Galician photographer María Moldes. Now based in Alicante, Moldes has spent the last two summers documenting – cellphone in hand – what goes on along the beach in the Mediterranean capital of kitsch. The result is Escenas de la vida radiactiva (Scenes of radioactive life), an exhibition now running at Alicante’s Mistos cultural cooperative that portrays a place free of hang-ups and, on occasion, with a touch of the alien about it.

In Moldes’ mind, the more surreal the object or photo taken, the better. The Instagram account on which she posts her images has been followed by 2,000 people since she opened it to the public six months ago – including the likes of Magnum agency photographer Peter Van Agtmael. Before that she had just 50 followers.

Her catalogue of images is a hymn to skin tanned to excess, brazenly displayed bellies, outlandishly dyed hair and mustaches from another era. They are scenes that, she says, “emit radioactivity, but of the good sort.” The self-taught Moldes says she wanted to turn the idea of Benidorm as a weird place where working-class Brits rub shoulders with Spanish seniors on its head. “They are photos that don’t seek to ridicule but rather to show a place where what is different doesn’t annoy the person next to you, there’s little sense of the ridiculous,” she says.

The images are a hymn to skin tanned to excess, outlandish hair and mustaches from another era

Moldes doesn’t like to reflect the world as most of us see it. “I try to make it look like science-fiction,” she says. She takes her photos without their subjects knowing, on an iPhone 5, and gives them minimal editing – applying only a quick saturation effect – before uploading them to Instagram. Her inspiration is the work of photographers such as Martin Parr, also of the Magnum agency and renowned for his inimitable social documentary images.

Moldes has come a long way in the last year. French publishing house Out of the Phone, which specializes in cellphone-shot photography, has already decided to include her work alongside that of professionals who also publish online in its next photobook. Meanwhile, she has gone from working in a Madrid business school to seeing one of her photos appear at the top of an article in the UK’s Guardian newspaper and giving interviews to fashion blogs and Spain’s MOWO cellphone photography conference.

“I don’t care what I use to take the photo,” she says, explaining that she chose to take her images on a cellphone because she thought an SLR would take something of the naturalness away from her unwary models. “In the heart of the crowd, almost violating the personal space of those I’d like to get to know, I photograph people with no hang-ups and a lot of personality,” she says. Moldes is already working on her second series, Gamma City, in which she moves inland to create a vision of life on Benidorm’s streets that, in the same way, is as grotesque as it is human.

Escenas de la vida radiactiva. Until January 14 at Mistos Cooperativa Cultural, C/ Maestro Marqués 70, Alicante. www.mistos.es

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