One of the great things about being a photographer in La Rioja – well, anywhere for that matter – is that the unexpected can happen at any time. And, of course, it frequently does.
It was still dark when I set out for San Millán de la Cogolla on Tuesday morning. The two monasteries at San Millán (Yuso and Suso) played a key role in the history of La Rioja and the development of the Spanish language. But despite their World Heritage Site status and being located in the next valley but one from where I live, I’d never photographed the place.
I’d been hoping to get a picture with the early morning sunlight falling on the roof of Yuso, the larger of the two monasteries, with the magnificent snow-covered mountains of Sierra de la Demanda as a backdrop.
But while the distant peak of San Lorenzo was in sunlight, San Millán itself stayed under stubbornly cloudy skies, making the foreground light unpleasantly flat. After a couple of hours waiting in sub-zero temperatures to see if the clouds would lift, my frozen toes could take it no more. I wandered down the hill to the entrance looking for a Plan B only to be told that the monastery was closed for the day.
I asked why and that was when the unexpected happened. After a three-year €4.6m restoration project, the church at Yuso was to be officially reopened later in the day in the presence of the president of La Rioja’s government, Pedro Sanz, and other dignitaries. And so a couple of hours later I followed the rest of the press in for a guided tour, long opening speeches – see expression on the journalist below – and mass. The resultant pictures were far more interesting than I’d expected.
As for the scenic shot with the mountain backdrop, it could be better. And fortunately I live only a couple of valleys away.