For over 30 years, under Franco's rule, the field of Spanish photography languished. Besides official governmental photos (read: propaganda), there was little in the way of authentic, personal explorations of the country through photographs. After his death, a group of photographers sought to change that. They captured rural society, life in small provincial towns, marginal cultures, folk traditions and popular festivities, seen from a unique viewpoint far removed from the stereotyped view. This exhibition surveys the work of these leading exponents of documentary photography in Spain during the 1970s and 80s.
Though heirs, in a sense, to the Humanist realism of an earlier generation, the approach adopted by the six photographers was different in a number of ways: they shunned Neorealist commonplaces and aimed for total honesty; they sought to observe and convey the world directly, sometimes framing shots in order to create immensely-expressive Surrealist images; they were aware that the language of photography has its own characteristics and resources; they were acutely conscious that they were recording ways of life and traditions which were soon to disappear or undergo radical change and which highlighted the gulf between urban and rural society.
The world they captured bore little resemblance to the official iconography purveyed throughout Franco’s dictatorship in illustrated publications and tourist brochures, which drew heavily on the picturesque, offering an ideal vision. Their work was prompted solely by personal concern and was not commissioned. These long-term projects allowed the photographers to become wholly immersed in the world they were portraying, and to forge close links with their sitters and their settings. Each of the photographers had his own unique background and his own special approach to the medium, but all their work was a product of the same time and space.
Although documentary photography like this is now commonplace, these photographers were pioneers in their time. They captured subjects and ways of life which truly no longer exist and thanks to their efforts, we are able to marvel at them today. Through visiting this exhibition, we understand that capable, sensitive documentary photographers are not only producing valuable documents in their own day, but invaluable artifacts for the generations that follow.
Editor's Note: Dozens more of these photographs can be seen in the exhibition "So Near, So Far", along with many other fantastic exhibitions that are part of PHotoEspana 2014. The festival is running in locations all over Madrid from June 4 - July 27, 2014.