The Spanish province of Almería in Andalucia has a very interesting history. Around half a century ago, it was a hub for Hollywood film production. The American film industry discovered that Almería’s desert landscape – with barren rock faces and sparse vegetation – provided a blank canvas on which sets could easily be built.
The land masqueraded as the American Midwest, North Africa or even the surface of the moon, with just a little accessorising.
Some of the old sets still remain, however, as fragments of make-believe worlds, while others have been converted into tourist attractions. Photographer Mark Parascandola has documented these remnants in a series titled Once Upon a Time Almería: The Legacy of Hollywood, brought together in a photo book published by Daylight Books.
In the 1960s a few hundred Hollywood films were shot in the region. Besides the area being aesthetically suitable for the sort of films being made at the time, cheap labour made the area even more attractive to American production houses.
Scenes for Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Cleopatra (1963) and parts of classic Westerns such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) and Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), were shot in Almería.
In the 1970s, however, laws introduced under Franco’s dictatorship favoured national cinema and local industry over the foreign. Slowly, Hollywood retreated.
Much of Parascandola’s work studies architecture and lived-in spaces and its relationship with geography and communities.
But this particular series is also the photographer’s exploration of his own past and his family’s history. His mother moved to America from Almería in the 1930s and family holidays during his childhood often included visits to these film sets.
Parascandola’s photographs capture these sets in different moods, sometimes like eerie fragments of a world that was and other times like caricatured tourist attractions; complete with actors in over-the-top outfits and film props.
Once Upon A Time in Almeria: The Legacy of Hollywood in Spain by Mark Parascadola, published by Daylight Books, out December 12. Available for pre-order here.