Highlights from the PhotoEspaña festival 2010
Increasingly ambitious in both scale and scope, this year's PhotoEspaña's main theme was 'Time', and many of the official shows took this as their starting point.
The Harold Edgerton retrospective at BBVA proved that no one has yet bettered the good doctor's work from the 1930s - 1970s, capturing motion and freezing time. The iconic bullet-through-an-apple, and milk drop corona images were shown alongside many lesser known but equally daring photographs. A brilliant vintage print showing Edgerton and an assistant covered in eggs they had just thrown into a fan for a photograph, showed he wasn't afraid to suffer for his art. For the technical aficionados, his actual cameras and notebooks on exposure tests and custom lighting rigs are also included in the show.
The sprawling group show 'Manhattan, Mixed Use: photographs and other media from the 1970s to the present' at the Reina Sofia did contain some real gems, but could have done with a fiercer edit. Fascinating as the city was in its untamed, gritty Seventies guise, how many black and white shots of sections of the city changing through the seasons does the viewer really need to see?
For those with the stamina to wade through it all, highlights included Alvin Baltrop's legendary paean to clandestine homosexuality, the 'Pier Photographs' (including many previously unseen prints); Peter Hujar's haunting, beautifully printed 'Night' series from the 1970s; and a recent, deceptively simple Steve McQueen video piece entitled 'Static', in which the artists' camera mesmerically circles the Statue of Liberty, with the back drop of the city endlessly swirling while the statue itself remains enigmatically still.
Juergen Teller's star continues to rise: the retrospective of his work, 'Calves & Thighs' at the Communidad de Madrid was the most anticipated show of the week and the opening night was the hot ticket. Spread over two floors of a beautiful, classical Spanish building, the exhibition, curated by Paul Wombell, included work from throughout Teller's career, showing how his vision has matured but rarely deviated in style over the last decade.
The work, seen together like this, has a very definite, unique aesthetic which is studiedly casual yet incredibly difficult to pull off. A nice touch was a giant vitrine showing all of his books published to date (including a lay out of nearly every page of the doorstop-like Marc Jacobs advertising compendium), some of which are now as collectable as the prints themselves. Never one to compromise, Teller's bleached out, starkly lit shots often show their subjects laid bare (literally) in a way that few other photographers could hope to realise. Often in the shots himself, frequently naked, Teller is no shrinking violet and with an exhibition of this scale, while there's no denying the power of his work, you can't help feeling there's perhaps a little too much Tellerwürst on show.
The winner of last year's Descrubimientos (Discoveries) award, Alejandra Laviada (also a Wallpaper* Next Generation pick in 2008), was rewarded with a solo show at the Sala EL Aguila. Her work continues to find lyrical possibilities from the most mundane materials, in this case cracked, chipped windows and makeshift repairs. Laviada has already amassed a distinctive body of work, from the complicated constructions of found objects to the blasted shotgun holes in colourful plasterboard, and its good to see her getting more recognition.
Highlights from this year's 'Descrubimientos' entrants included Petros Efstathiadis, an intriguing young Greek photographer who creates strange, fantastical tableaux with any raw materials he can lay his hands on in the suburbs of his home town, Athens. Once he's taken the shot, he returns all the material to whence it came, and the print is the only record that remains.
Fernando Maquieira's portraits of members of various religious orders, contrasted with a series of people lost in prayer, showed a real sensitivity coupled with technical competence. His series of photographs taken at night, inside the Fundacion Mapfre in Madrid, revealed another dimension to his work, the subtle colours and the haunting lighting portrayed an eerie, still world filled with priceless paintings that look entirely staged but are only too real.