The poetic photography of Chema Madoz

The artist's images are never what they first appear to be

One of the images from Chema Madoz's new show in Barcelona.
One of the images from Chema Madoz's new show in Barcelona.carles ribas

Knots in a piece of wood that appear to be the flame of a match; a Romanesque arch built from books; a hangman's rope made out of pearls; an Olympic podium of melting ice cubes — the objects photographed by Chema Madoz are not what they seem at first sight.

"Up until the 1990s I photographed human figures," the Madrid-born photographer explains. "But I realized that they weren't participating in the image, that they don't say anything about what they hide. That's why I moved on to objects."

Madoz, one of Spain's most prominent contemporary photographers, doesn't do portraits or reportage. He has spent more than two decades creating visual metaphors that combine objects in surprising, poetic, intimate, ironic and philosophical compositions. Seventy of his images, spanning his career from the 1980s to the present day, are now on display at the Antoni Gaudí-designed La Pedrera in Barcelona in an exhibition entitled Ars combinatoria, which is open until the end of July.

An enormous photograph of Madoz's studio in Galapagar, in the Guadarrama mountains outside Madrid, greets visitors to the exhibition. It is full of objects — bones, shoes, old books, cages, watches, bottles, mirrors, as well as tree branches, dried leaves and stones — that appear in his other photos. It is a bright and clean work in which nothing is superfluous and what matters is the second reading that comes after the first impression.

The images carry no titles that might reveal their author's intentions: "I think it clips the wings of the images. I prefer to leave them open, without too much information," he says, standing in front of a dreamlike photograph of a staircase supported by a window — in reality a looking glass that seems to be waiting for Alice to cross to the other side.

"His works don't make any clear social criticism, don't make allusions to greed, drugs or the fragility of the human condition," says the curator of the exhibition, Oliva Maria Rubio. We see it in his watches or in the bottle of perfume that ends in a syringe, which has a lot to do with skyscrapers such as New York's Empire State Building.

Madoz works in black and white on the old analogue Hasselblad camera he bought secondhand 25 years ago. "I don't need to work in digital, my images are a reflection of reality," he says.

Chema Madoz. Ars combinatoria . Until July 28 at La Pedrera, Passeig de Gràcia, 92, Barcelona. www.lapedrera.com

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