A young, handsome man sleeps on a sofa, his head slipping toward the floor. Along the bottom of the image run four portraits of no-less-good-looking subjects taken in palatial surroundings. Soliloquy I (1998) is one of the most famous works by celebrated British photographer Sam Taylor-Wood (1967-) and a perfect example of what since the 1970s has been known as art photography.
Taylor-Wood's piece occupies the central space in Fotografía contemporánea en la Colección Telefónica (Contemporary photography in the Telefónica Collection) now on at the Telefónica Foundation's Madrid headquarters. The archive of 101 images was first shown in public a decade ago, but now visitors are getting a new look at 50 of them, all created between 1973 and 2006. All the most significant names in international photography from the last three decades are here: Marina Abramovic, Helena Almeida, John Coplans, Miriam Bäckström, James Casebere, Willie Doherty, Stan Douglas, Paul Graham, Zhang Huan, Jürgen Klauke, Perejaume, Salla Tykkä... But it is the German and American photographers who dominate.
Curator Ramón Esparza has assembled a tour around the Düsseldorf School, represented by the Bechers, Thomas Strüth and Andreas Gursky; the American postmodernism of Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall and Richard Price; and the more eclectic positions deriving from these two dominant currents.
These are pieces a long way from the world of documentary photography, conceived to compete for territory with paintings and sculpture in museums. Their authors are looking to recreate beauty both real and performed; there are no hidden messages in any of the works - "What you see is what you see," as the Düsseldorf School motto coined by Frank Stella and printed on one of the walls puts it.
Although numerous Spanish photographers are present in the collection, few are included in this review. One of those who is is Canarian Miguel Rio Branco, whose series Perseverancia (1994) shows a Havana trapped in time 40 years after the revolution. The work consists of six photos in which a man, always with his back to the camera, is portrayed alongside old Cadillacs that seem to be the only survivors in a present in which nothing happens.
Fotografía Contemporánea en la Colección Telefónica. Until March 2 at Fundación Telefónica, C/ Fuencarral 3, Madrid. http://espacio.fundaciontelefonica.com