PhotoEspaña turns its gaze on Spain

The best Spanish photography of the last 150 years is the focus of this year’s festival

'Oh, this wonderful war...! II' forms part of the Josep Renau retrospective at this year’s PhotoEspaña.
'Oh, this wonderful war...! II' forms part of the Josep Renau retrospective at this year’s PhotoEspaña.

PhotoEspaña, the country’s largest annual photography and visual arts festival, kicks off on Wednesday. For the first time, this year’s event, the 17th, will focus largely on Spain itself; for the next two months dozens of venues throughout Madrid and beyond will host exhibitions showcasing the work of Spanish photographers from the beginnings of the art form in the 19th century up to the present day.

“It was about time: the Spanish presence in the festival has always been around 30 percent, but now that this has become a major event, we thought the moment had come to showcase Spanish photography,” says Claude Bussac, who has been running the event since 2006. “This edition aims to provide a portrait of the country,” he adds.

“For the next two years we’re going to be focusing on the work of regions: next year we’ll be dedicating the event to Latin America, and the year after that to Europe,” says Bussac. “We wanted as diverse a selection of work as possible, which is why there will be more collective exhibitions and more curators.”

Leading contemporary photographer Alberto García Alix, who has been taking gritty bohemian portraits since the 1980s, backs the initiative to put Spain in the spotlight: “We don’t realize how important this event is internationally: I have been showing work here since it began in 1998. It’s like a beacon. At the same time, the work of the curators will be very important. I am keen to see what they have done. Dedicating this year’s event to Spain is a good idea. I hope that we can make this a big deal that will help us ask where Spanish photography is going. I am very proud to be here again, and with all the difficulties that we are all facing, the organization has been a great help.” García Alix’s Self-portrait is likely to be one of the most popular exhibitions at this year’s festival.

A look back over the career of fashion photographer Chema Conesa provides a touch of glamour

PhotoEspaña’s budget has been cut from €3.1 million in 2011 to €1.9 million. “It has obviously been difficult. I think this year we will be able to make it, thanks in part to some private sponsors who had dropped out, but have now come back in,” says García Alix.

“Spain is going through a very tough time, and it is harder than ever to make a living out of this, there’s no denying that. But I’m not too worried: as long as we have talent, we’ll be all right; and there’s a lot of talent out there. Things are going to get a lot worse, but as long as we have creative people in our midst, people who love photography, people who want to grow by practicing the profession, then we don’t need to worry too much: things will continue.”

The festival continues to expand beyond Madrid, and this year there will be exhibitions in the dormitory towns of Alcalá de Henares and Alcobendas, as well as in six other Spanish cities.

Highlights of this year’s event include exhibitions about Madrid’s architecture: Photography and Modern Architecture in Spain, 1925-1965 looks at the role the art form has played in Spanish modernist architecture.

Luis Lladó’s ‘Cine Barceló, Madrid,’ is on show in the exhibition devoted to architecture.
Luis Lladó’s ‘Cine Barceló, Madrid,’ is on show in the exhibition devoted to architecture.

There is also a retrospective of the work of La Palangana, a photography collective formed in 1959 by members of Madrid’s Real Sociedad Fotográfica, whose chief aim was to move away from the academic, pictorialist criteria of the time, and to faithfully record contemporary Spain in images.

The work of José Ortiz Echagüe, who worked as a photographer in the early years of the 20th century, before setting up the SEAT car company in 1950, is the subject of a major retrospective, which focuses on his pictures from North Africa.

There are a number of exhibitions charting the work of documentary photographers who travelled the country in the 1960s capturing the harshness of rural life, Gypsy communities, and the impact of the Church on daily life.

The National Library will be exhibiting a selection of work by pioneering Spanish photographers, drawn from its own collection from the 1850s, a key period for the history of photography in Spain.

The Círculo de Bellas Artes cultural center in Madrid is hosting a retrospective of the work of Josep Renau. A member of the Communist Party who worked with the Dadaist and Surrealist movements, he went into exile in Mexico after the Civil War.

Photography 2.0 explores the changes taking place in Spanish photography in the context of mass image production, globalization and post-capitalism.

A touch of glamour is provided by a look back over the career of fashion photographer Chema Conesa that features over a hundred photographs, many of which include celebrities.

PhotoEspaña. Until July 27 at various venues around Madrid and beyond. www.phe.es

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