Cristina de Middel’s Afronauts was one of the most surprising book phenomenons of last year, however there are lot more new Spanish lens based artists and bookmakers to be discovered.
The recent curatorial, critical and popular interest in the photobook and it’s place as the driving force in the history of modern photography is a welcome breath of fresh air which challenges traditional elitist museum based views. However, as far a Spain is concerned there is an almost complete void in this “history” which is especially notable from the 60’s to the present day. That is no to say that there were no good photographers working in Spain at this time – Juan Colom, Ramón Masats, Cristina Garcia Rodero, Carlos Pérez Siquier and Cristobal Hara to name a few – rather that the traditionally conservative nature of Spanish society meant that there was almost no photobook market and therefore no publishing houses.
One exception is the Catalan publishing house Lumen and their superb long running series of books Palabra e Imagen, which ran from 1961–1985. It should be noted however that Izas, Rabizas y Coliporterras by Juan Colom and Camilo José Cela got such a vitriolic panning that Colom hung up his cameras, and furthermore received absolutely no national official recognition until 2002 when he was awarded the Premio Nacional de Fotografía.
Certainly, since the mid 1980’s there have been plenty of Spanish “artist” photographers who have served the gallery scene and reams of accompanying catalogue publications have been produced extolling their art, we have Spanish Robert Mapplethorpe’s, quite a few Spanish Tomas Ruff’s, Struth’s and Sophie Calle’s, however apart form the notable exception of the unique vision of Joan Fontcuberta very few have made good photobooks or been able to attract an international audience.
So it is with this cultural and political background that work by a new wave of Spanish photographers are starting to receive attention, and deservedly so. These individuals and groups of photographers are independent, organised, informed and have something to say, in a unique, dare I say it Spanish way.
In 2011 Julián Baron’s C.E.N.S.U.R.A. and Ricardo Cases’s Paloma al Aire were the first these new book works to be acclaimed internationally, both photographers form part of a collective around the photo school BlankPaper. Baron’s book is quite small, boasts no fancy paper, expensive binding or other design features, it’s a set of full bleed images of Spanish politicians during election time ingeniously captured digitally, lit by the excess flash light of surrounding press cameras. The resulting images, completely washed out except for darker areas, convert the politicians into faceless spectres. It’s a burnt out photo-lab nightmare and the fact that he is using governments favourite method of propaganda – the camera and the media event – to twist the message, smartly subverts the very instruments on which politicians most rely.
Hemmingway wrote that Spanish was a far better language than English to hurl insults, he noted that not only is there a Spanish equivalent to every English swear word but also a blaspheme opposite for every liturgical expression. Ricardo Cases’s two books La Caza Del Lobo Conjelado and Paloma Al Aire use photography to take this extraordinary linguistic palette to new heights and he does it skilfully enough that the viewer doesn’t know whether to sympathise, laugh, cry, cringe or gag.
La Caza Del Lobo Congelado takes us on a monteria, a traditional Spanish hunt, reserve of the Spanish upper-crust, if you are really upper-crust you invite your friends to your monteria if you are less so you may get invited, and if you are even less so you’ll have to pay to go to one. Either way Cases’s book complete with faux- leather binding really takes us there, from the bloodied mouth of the hunting dog to a majestic landscape where a snob takes a piss over a precipice while his companions look out for the “prey”, we get to see the “real-deal” but are smartly left to draw your own conclusions.
Paloma Al Aire is a wonderful small format spiral bound book on thick matt paper which gives it an unpretentious feel like a homemade scrapbook. He uses many of the same formal techniques as La caza del lobo congelado but this time we discover the world of pigeon racers in Murcia and Valencia, a much more humble affair were it not for the brightly painted birds and Cases’s eye for the spectacle. Despite the surgical flashlight it’s a tender look at the sport were men, mostly past their prime, breed male birds with the sole intent of participating in the spectacle of lifting off the ground and chasing the ultimate macho prize, the female.
Antonio Xoubanova and Oscar Monzón are also members of the BlankPaper collective and have both published books this year worthy of mention. Xoubanova’s Casa del Campo is a “fable” drawn from images made over 4 years in Madrid’s largest public park,the careful design and production result in one of those rare book- objects that has a life of it’s own. It is a deeply meditative work that leads us by the hand through a meticulously crafted sequence of images divided into 5 chapters dealing with love, death, fleeting moments, symbols and a lack of direction, however as with all good tales it is a pleasure to go back to regularly as lays itself open to multiple readings.
Anybody who has spent a bit of time in a city will know about the tyranny of the automobile and the unfair division of public space and right of way between cars and pedestrians, it’s a problem that very few urban planners, architects or politicians are prepared to acknowledge because of cultural, personal and social attachment that we have to our cars. Oscar Monzón’s Karma looks at theses relationships full-on, armed with a flash and a telephoto lens, working in cover of darkness Monzón presents us with a startling series of pictures, details of skin and coachwork cement our metamorphosis and lead us into our “car world” of power, social status, sex, surveillance, feeding, fighting and getting wasted. Just like our congested roads there is nothing subtle here and although decades of slick car adverts would like to lead us to believe the contrary, it’s a dirty, messy, chaos.
Aleix Plademunt is member of a publishing collective called Ca l’Isidret Edicions his book Almost There is co-published with MACK and is in complete contrast to the aforementioned titles, rather than working from an archive Plademunt knows exactly which picture he needs and where to produce it before the fact. Almost There therefore is an conceptual book work that revolves around the idea of our existential relationship with distance, an intimate look at quantum physics, perhaps. Below it’s seemingly cold exterior it is a very personal work that includes a picture of his father and details of himself at a cellular level, these are related to geographical, cosmological and emotional space though an incredible amount of subtle twists and turns in the sequence. In a world of instant gratification and eye-candy this book requires that the reader not only spends time with it, but quality time, however doing so will provide an uplifting experience.
Spain is neither a global industrial, military or economic force, but when you consider it’s relation to the development of art history – Velazquez, Goya, Picasso – it is arguably the force to be reckoned with. However the conservative nature of private and public institutions at a local and national level consistently support international, safe, established “star-tists” with all the expense that that entails and are unaware of this local grass roots movement in front of them. So out of necessity there is great solidarity between all the “new wave” of Spanish lens based artists and bookmakers, no one seems to be in it for themselves, this cooperative ethic enables them to cross reference work, share ideas, produce projects, exhibitions and books all outside of the traditional museum/gallery system with its closed set of standards and cronyism. It is therefore free of all the contamination that being part of that system can bring to ideas and artists and well worth taking the time to discover and support.
View the Spanish photobooks currently in stock at PhotoBookStore here.