Advertisement

Pointy-hatted penitents take over Seville: Andy Summers’ best photograph

If you didn’t know the meaning behind this image, you might feel threatened or scared by it. It looks very sinister. But it’s nothing to do with the Ku Klux Klan or anything like that. It’s about intense religious feeling. I shot it in Seville, Spain. I went there in April 2019, specifically to experience Semana Santa, their Holy Week: seven days of deeply religious ceremonies and rituals. Carrying crosses and wearing long robes, capes and pointed hoods that cover their faces, the Nazarenos take part in a massive, spectacular procession. “Nazarenos” take their name from Nazareth but are also known as los penitentes, the penitent ones. Their procession is about devotion and penitence. The parade goes on for miles – it’s one of the most impressive religious events you can see on the planet.

The streets are completely packed. The floats are incredible: they look like they weigh a ton. There are sculptures of the Virgin Mary on top and are decorated with thousands of flowers. They’re carried by the costaleros, and there are around 30 guys per float. They walk very slowly, with someone in a robe at the front directing them because they can’t see where they’re going. They’re just being told: “Take two steps forward. Take two steps to the right.” You have to wait for years if you want to take part in the parade, as either a nazareno or costalero. And they’re all male – I didn’t see any women in the costumes.

The event is very sombre but intoxicating. It’s also very moving because the music is so beautiful. There’s a brass band playing mournful, dirge-like, funereal music which charges the atmosphere. There’s a lot of smoke and incense, making it a multi-sensory event. It’s hard not to get caught up in the emotion of it all.

I think this is a very powerful image. Loaded with people in sinister-looking costumes, it has an element of confrontation. The fact that I managed to get right in front of them, with the leader as focal point, amazes me. I was going mad that night trying to get photographs from every aspect. The nazarenos came to a certain point in the parade and as they stopped, I got down on my knees in front of them. They weren’t posing – I was very naughty and got right in the middle of the street to get this shot. I did it quickly, but it worked.

People assume that, as a guitarist, I’d want to photograph other musicians. But that’s the last thing I’m interested in

I’ve done photography all over the world. Wherever you go, you have to strap on your sense of adventure and accept a little bit of risk. You need to have some balls – you’ll miss otherwise. But that’s part of the thrill.

This is the sort of stuff that drives me as a photographer. I started it in 1979 in New York. I was there with the Police. We had an enormous amount of time on our hands because our only job was to play gigs at night. There were lots of people taking photos of the band all the time: we were often surrounded by photographers. I would look at their gear and it spurred me on, so I went and bought a camera – with a real lens!

During all those years – especially in the US, where we rose to superstardom – I photographed the whole thing from the inside. We went all over and I’d go out photographing “weird America”, as we called it – all the stuff out in the boonies.

I found photography great for travelling. When I wasn’t playing guitar, I could take pictures. If I’m somewhere to do a gig, I don’t just sit in the hotel room, I enjoy getting out and trying to get into the culture. The camera is a great way to enter into a place. People assume that because I’m a guitarist, I would want to photograph other musicians. But that’s about the last thing I’m interested in.

I feel very passionately about photography. I wasn’t a rock’n’roller who got a camera for five minutes and tossed it away. It’s an art form, like guitar-playing. You get better over time. I still take photos most days. Whatever city I’m in, I’m happy to get my gear and wander out. I’m not just looking – I’m seeing. And I’m taking things in in a different way. It’s a more intense way of going through the world.

A Series of Glances by Andy Summers is available now (teNeues). See more of his work at andysummers.com and @andysummers_official

Andy Summers’ CV

Born: Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire, 1942
Trained: Self-taught
Influences:Robert Frank, Ralph Gibson, Lee Friedlander
High point:The Police had No 1s all over the world. Being No 1 in the US was pretty good: Every Breath You Take was top of the charts there for eight weeks. It was hard work, so intense that you forget who you were for years. But it was an endless thrill ride”
Low point: “Getting divorced”
Top tip: “Remember to take the lens cap off”