One of the summer’s big cultural events that is definitely worth travelling for is PHotoESPAÑA in Madrid. Here you can take a look at past, present and future photographic art. And a trip to PHotoESPAÑA is a trip to the whole world; from German taverns to Castro’s Cuba.
We meet a proud Anders Petersen at the entrance to the exhibition of his major work Café Lehmitz in Madrid’s giant CentroCentro cultural centre on Plaza de Cibeles.
The artist invites us to the night parties at Hamburg’s Café Lehmitz through photographs he created in the late 1960s. Here we meet ordinary bar-goers, prostitutes, bums, drug dealers, and drag queens.
We begin in a room where the walls are papered with prints of Petersen’s contact sheets, which have never been shown to the public before. The contact sheets have the photographer’s personal notes and yellow and red stickers that marked when each image was to be printed.
“I’m happy to show my contact sheets. They show my weaknesses and my confusion,” he says.
In the middle of the room we can sit at a table and leaf through the book Café Lehmitz, and at the bottom of the room the photographer tells us about the process and the people in a film.
In the second part of the exhibition, we can see or re-see the 100 images of, among others. Lily, known from a Tom Waits cover and Wanja, with whom the photographer lived, who has previously walked the world, as well as 150 unprecedented photographs. The photographer is happy to see the pictures of his friends again, but also saddened that none of them are alive anymore.
Café Lehmitz is the 20th edition of PHotoESPAÑA’s main attraction and part of the festival’s absolute highlight – six photo exhibitions grouped under the title Carte Blanche. We will come back to them.
Spanish photographer gets free rein in anniversary venture
PHotoESPAÑA emerged in 1998 at a time when photography was deserted in Spain, and it quickly attracted international attention. The festival is organised by La Fábrica, one of Spain’s largest cultural organisers, which also runs a publishing house and bookshop in Madrid with a special focus on photography. PHotoESPAÑA has chosen to mark the anniversary in both 2017 and 2018, and this year’s major anniversary initiative is Carte Blanche, consisting of six exhibitions curated by Spanish photographer Alberto García-Alix. García-Alix is known for his raw portraits and as a leading figure in the cultural movement La Movida Madrileña, which emerged in the wake of Franco. In addition to Anders Petersen, he has invited Teresa Magolle, Karlheinz Weinberger, Paulo Nozolino, Antoine d’Agata and Pierre Molinier. Photographers who, according to García-Alix, have in common that “they stand out from the norm and produce images where emotion is everything. The artists are diverse and both the rebellious, the sublime and the complex are represented.”
At CentroCentro, adjacent to Café Lehmitz, Mexican photographer Teresa Magolle gives faces and voices to the transgender prostitutes of Ciudad Juárez in the exhibition Pistas de baile (Dance Floors). The city is in ruins due to wars between drug cartels and government decisions. In a post-box red room, the transexuals pose in colour portraits in the ruins of the nightclubs they once worked in.
At the Museu del Romanticismo in Madrid’s gay quarter, Chueca, Swiss Karlheinz Weinberger shows us in En un círculo de rebeldes (A Circle of Rebels) intimate and voyeuristic portraits of young rockers, girlfriends and others he met on the street in the 1950s, whose dress (e.g. leather jackets and belts with distinctive buckles) signals that they are “rebels without a cause.”
Controversial erotic exhibitions
The beautiful old cultural centre Círculo de Bellas Artes hosts the last three Carte Blanche exhibitions. On the ground floor we enter a dark room with 20 dimly lit black and white photographs by the Portuguese Paulo Nozolino. Titled Loaded Shine, the images take us on a journey into the photographer’s dark, spiritual universe, where death is death and destruction is destruction.
In the basement we meet the late French photographer Pierre Molinier in his fetishistic, erotic self-portraits from the 1960s, in which he appears in several as a transvestite.
On the first floor we find the house’s largest – and most controversial – Carte Blanche exhibition Corpus by French Magnum photographer Antoine d’Agata. The artist was late for his opening speech because the country’s taxi drivers had chosen to strike, but he is omnipresent in the exhibition. We meet him in a full wall-size self-portrait, and he is the protagonist of several of the installation’s small photographs, videos and texts, which depict a ghostly, distorted world of drugs, sex and violence in an increasingly intense and violent world. d’Agata’s exhibition has divided audiences, who loudly describe the work as everything from “great art” to “vulgar and pointless”. Some guests rush up to the Círculo de Bella Arte’s coveted rooftop terrace with spectacular views over the city.
Before entering the Molinier and d’Agata exhibitions, the organisers warned us on a sign that the exhibitions are not suitable for people under 18 and that we are responsible for how we choose to view the images.
The established champions
The sun is high in the Madrid sky and the temperature is 32 degrees at the official opening of PHotoESPAÑA at the Real Jardín Botánico (Botanical Garden), which is marked by two exhibitions. English Peter Fraser challenges our intellect in his exhibition Mathematics. In immediately simple photographs of recognisable objects such as a cactus, a snake, tools, houses, a snow landscape, a roll of tape, a cut tomato on a plate and portraits, the artist invites us to seek the mathematics in the elements of each image, on the motto that “everything in the world is mathematics. Mathematics can describe the world, or at least in a way that approaches an explanation.”
Magnum photographer Elliot Erwitt’s Cuba oppositely activates our emotions, inviting us along on his two trips around Cuba in 1964 and 2015 in a series of aesthetic black and white photographs. On his first trip, he took the legendary photos of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.
After seeing the exhibitions, we are served drinks called “Havana 7 de Erwitt” in a shady corner of the beautiful botanical garden. The drinks mark Erwitt’s collaboration with rum producer Havana Club 7, where they present an award to a photojournalist of particular note who gets the opportunity to travel to Cuba.
The basement of the fashionable Loewe store on Gran Vía is dedicated to the exhibition Metáforas (Metaphors) by the legendary late American photographer Minor White. 42 black and white photographs cover his career over 40 years, from his early urban photos and symbolic and precise studies of the male body to abstract nature images. As the title suggests, White was more interested in the metaphorical meaning of photography than its ability to reproduce reality, which he expressed in composition and light.
100 years seen through the Leica camera
In Madrid’s iconic Telefónica building, known as Europe’s first skyscraper and the building where Hemingway sat and reported from the Civil War, the third floor exhibition space is taken up by photographs taken with the Leica camera in the exhibition Con los ojos bien abiertos (With eyes wide open).
Through more than 300 photographs, including famous ones such as Alberto Korda’s Che Guevara portrait, Robert Capa’s falling soldier, Henri Cartier-Bresson’s man jumping over a puddle, Nick Ut’s naked Vietnamese girl fleeing from napalm bombs and Christer Strömholm’s Nana on Place Blanche, PHotoESPAÑA pays tribute to the Leica camera and the revolutionary technology that changed the way we see the world through photography.
In thematic sections such as new vision, photojournalism from the 1930s to the 1950s, auteur photography, colour photography from the 1960s to the 1990s and fashion photography, we are taken through the evolution of photography from the first Leica camera to 2014. We also hear the story of Leica’s inventor, Oskar Barnack, who, as an engineer at Leitz, developed the first model of a camera in 1914 that was discreet, handy and could take a lot of pictures on 35mm cinema film. His invention was further developed, and in 1925 the first Leica came on the market under the slogan “small negatives, big pictures.”
In a small showcase we can also take a closer look at different Leica cameras, from the first model to the latest digital version.
Photo artists of the future
Close to the Champions Leauge winners, Real Madrid’s Bernabeu stadium, the Sala Canal de Isabel II exhibition space is located in a rustic, converted water tower. Here, 54 Spanish photographers give us an insight into what’s happening in young Spanish photography. Six of the artists are exhibiting works on three of the floors, two and two opposite each other. One of them, Basque photographer Bego Antón, has this year received the Premio Revelación awarded by PHotoESPAÑA and El Corte Inglés department store to the most promising young artist under 35. In the documentary series Everybody loves to ChaChaCha, she separates North American women and men who go to dance competitions and live in close relationships with their dogs. In the series, we bring the distinctive personalities to both dance practice and the living room, where the dog has a dedicated place on the sofa.
Also of note is Jesús Monterde, who is strongly inspired by Goya’s black paintings, which hang in the Prado Museum in Madrid. He photographs recognisable things like a girl ringing a church bell and a tree, but puts them together to create entirely new stories in our heads.
The other 48 artists present their works in photo books and audiovisual media. Together, these young Spanish artists give us an insight into where the future of photography is heading and who we might see more of at future editions of PHotoESPAÑA
- PHotoESPAÑA 2017 will be held until 27 August. However, some exhibitions end earlier, and others are on display until September.
- Admission is free to all photo exhibitions, except the Círculo de Bellas Artes.
- Festival information and programme available at Real Jardin Botánico and La Fabrica.
- PHotoESPAÑA 2017 has published exhibition catalogues and photo books by Anders Petersen, Antoine d’Agat and Peter Fraser, among others, which can be purchased at the exhibition venues or at La Fábrica.
Read also the report from PHotoEspaña 2018