Remains of a Wreck
Ximena Echague’s street photography essays tell a tale of two places called Ostend
Since September 2014, I am working on a photo essay in the Belgian seaside resort of Ostend (photos above.) I am now about to complete a second phase of the project in another Ostend, where two Belgian migrants tried to replicate such a resort in the desolate Argentine Atlantic coast at the beginning of the 20th century (photos below.)
One century later, it is intriguing to portray the esthetic similarities of these very different Ostends — the decadence of the European one, and the South American one that never really took off. European decadence and American failure feel strikingly similar, to the point of being sometimes difficult to distinguish.
Ostend, Belgium reflects various kinds of decadence, and a feeling of the end of an era. The city and its beach that used to be the gathering place for the wealthy and chic Europeans one century ago, and has now become a sleepy and rather dilapidated resort, mostly forgotten but still retaining a charming fin de siècle atmosphere.
After a long winter typical of northern Europe, people are eager to absorb as much light as possible. A mix of the old and the unemployed, that can afford to lie on the beach during working days, looking lost, abandoned, bored, even disheartened.
Ostend, Argentina was created at the turn of the 20th century by Belgian migrants, who intended to replicate in the South Atlantic the resort they knew well. But the vagaries of history, both personal and of their new country, never allowed for this idea to really flourish.
European war cut off Belgium from Argentina, making it impossible to ensure the flow of Belgian settlers that were expected by the promoters. They themselves ended up in Europe without seeing through their dream. Argentina’s multiple political and economic crises during the last century did not allow for the fulfillment of their vision, where only the Old Ostend Hotel is a remainder of this rather extravagant initiative.
I try to capture these different but complementary feelings, few and isolated people, in a place almost forgotten. And yet, life continues, people strive, color abounds, situations are often funny, beauty can be found.
In short, I tried to explore the transient nature of human experience, how places boom and bust. I also try to reflect photographically the ironic similarities between the decadence of an elitist European endeavor, grandeur turning into farce, and the stagnation of its American cousin, adventure leading nowhere.