PhotoEspaña is celebrating its 25th anniversary with 118 exhibitions in Madrid and participating cities, featuring the work of 268 photographers and visual artists until 28 August.
The centrepiece of this year’s festival is Sculpting Reality, an impressive survey of photographers working in a documentary style from the 1930s to the present day. It is an overview so vast that the exhibition is held in two locations, bookended by the work of Walker Evans, Helen Levitt, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, and recent projects by Paul Graham, Bleda y Rosa and Ian Wallace. It is a familiar tale, rarely told so comprehensively. Extraordinarily, the entire exhibition with more than 500 works by 29 photographers comes from a single source, the Per Amor a l’Art Collection.
The work of Almería-born Carlos Pérez Siquier is showcased in a career retrospective at Fundación Mapfre. He won his documentary spurs early with black-and-white 35mm reportage from Almería’s slum areas. But it is his colour work that steals the show, appearing radically prescient and irredeemably dated. His mid-70s beach scenes evoke a bygone heyday of package tourism, Ambre Solaire and lurid swimwear. Yet the use of medium format colour film and the ironic tone anticipate the work of later generations. No wonder Martin Parr believed, until he was apprised of the relevant dates, that the Spaniard had copied him.
The bombast of the Royal Palace of Madrid provides a fitting setting for Sebastião Salgado and the Royal Collections: Encounters in Landscape Photography, an exhibition proposing a dialogue between the work of the Brazilian and that of selected 19th-century landscape photographers. Representations of the sublime, through pictures of air, earth, fire and water, are gathered to suggest historical parallels. The organisers hope the exhibition will help raise awareness of environmental issues and the climate crisis.
The festival’s 25th anniversary provides an occasion for some curatorial retrospection. In an idiosyncratic display of contact prints at the Museum of Romanticism, Germaine Krull, one of the most prominent avant garde French photographers of the 1920s, photographs onboard a cargo ship fleeing Vichy France in 1941 – see the passengers party as they cross the equator. A poignant survey at the Calcografía Nacional features two Jewish female photographers’ documentation of the anarchist resistance during the Spanish civil war. The melancholic Javier Campano drily records the vanishing Madrid he sought out during Sunday afternoon strolls, on show at the Museo Lázaro Galdiano.
Five to see
If you can remember the 1960s, the old saw has it, you weren’t there. But this astonishingly ambitious exhibition may help jog a few memories. Brace yourself for a heady trip through Beatlemania, civil rights struggles, the moon landing, Nam, May 68 and the sexual revolution, for starters. It was the decade in which “everything, absolutely everything that happens can be found in the bottomless reservoir of printed photos. Everything is sold with photos: goods and experiences, news and ideas, music, art or literature,” we are told.
A vast array of printed pictures – in paperbacks, magazine spreads, photo books, photo comics, LP sleeves, and more – is wheeled out as evidence of the newfound ubiquity of the published photograph. There are some original items here, but in keeping with the spirit of things, most are reproductions.
Sadly there’s a sting in the tail: the exuberant outpouring of content turns out to be photography’s last great hurrah, or last gasp, before an incipient eclipse by television.
Public Photography. The Sixties is at CentroCentro until 2 October.
Fundación Mapfre hosts a comprehensive overview of six decades of photographs and photo books, primarily in Latin America, by the Italian-born Venezuelan Gasparini. His own brand of restless, strident and committed street photography from Caracas, Havana, São Paolo, Brasília and Mexico City is presented alongside series from uncompromising books including The Better to See You, Latin America (1972), Karakarakas (2014) and Departure and Return (1953-2016).
His work is also collated in two hard-hitting photomurals, The Angel of History (1963-2017) and Brasília, Two in One (1972-3 and 2003). The large mosaics highlight themes and associations between earlier bodies of work to suggest enduring social and political contradictions.
“In the photomurals I tried to recover the (personal and collective) memory to allow us to travel in photographic time, to move forwards and backwards in history and our experience.”
The exhibition and his output over the past 60 years bear witness to his conviction that the camera, in the right hands, can function as a tool for social justice.
Field of Images is at Fundación Mapfre until 28 August.
Hybrids showcases work by 11 young photographers, chosen from more than 1,000 applicants, whose projects explore the use of a variety of media including photography, video, performance and new technology.
Marina Paulenka, the curator and director of exhibitions at Fotografiska Berlin, identifies dominant concerns that emerge in the work: “They deal with various issues such as how technology, the internet and knowledge production impact humankind and nature; our relationship to machine-mediated pictures of the real, animals and the Earth; how global warming affects our everyday life; and what are the consequences of climate change.”
Maija Savolainen’s Solarophytes, for instance, explore the workings of solar and ultraviolet radiation on humans, plants and sand. And Carlos Alba’s Midnight Sun project addresses urban light pollution and its potentially harmful and irreversible effects.
Elsewhere, Marta Bogdańska’s archival project, Shifters, presents an artistic and ethical examination of the use of animals by western military powers, intelligence agencies and police forces.
Alexey Shlyk’s installation, Swan Song, combines photography, video and sound to present an exploration of the interface between human presence and image technology. The production of deep fakes and the attenuated boundaries between lens-based and computer-generated images could suggest a future in which the role of photographer is obsolete.
Hybrids is at CentroCentro until 25 September.
Juan Baraja focuses on the built environment and its interior and exterior spaces, but his subject may more accurately be described as the reneging of promises. The fruit that dangle in a rusting greenhouse in Experimento Banana, for example, are the sorry remnants of a bold, postwar attempt to profitably cultivate them in Iceland, 285km from the Arctic Circle. They are the lingering remains of an undertaking long since abandoned.
Similarly, in the Utopie Abitative series on Italian public housing, he takes disenchanted aim at the promises of the Modern Movement in architecture. Tiles are chipped, concrete is water stained and weeds and graffiti encroach. Blocks are empty. An irony attaches to the fact his work is stunningly displayed in the refined interiors of the Museo ICO.
More recently he has been working to record the social and environmental costs of the Basque Y, a high-speed rail link due for completion in 2028 and bitterly opposed in many quarters (sound familiar?). It seems the built environment, and its attendant promises, offer no end of disillusionment.
Against All That Glitters: Juan Bara is at Museo ICO until 11 September.
You know you’re in trouble when the billboards go blank. Elsie Haddad’s photographs of Beirut’s empty advertising hoardings, canaries in capitalism’s mine, document Lebanon’s economic collapse as prices triple and the value of the national currency plummets.
Her work is included in a group show at Casa Árabe featuring projects by 12 photographers responding to the political, environmental and economic crises, including the devastating port explosion of 2020, that have assailed the country.
In her series, The Trees Before Last, Ieva Saudargaitė Douaihi pictures isolated trees, often against an inhospitable concrete backdrop. They are all that remain of the city’s gardens and orchards and surrounding woods and groves.
Rima Maroun’s self-portraits, in which she appears masked in rubble-strewn locations, conjoin the pandemic and the 2020 explosion. Tarek Hadda’s and Myriam Boulos’s work is marked by the same events: Hadda adopts a contemplative and poetic register; Boulos uses pictures, testimonies and her own diary to try to articulate a response to Lebanon’s recent history.
In Light or Shadow of What Was and Still Is is at Casa Árabe.