Arissa: Shadow and Photographer
A closer look at Antoni Arissa, one of the most prominent Spanish avant-garde photographers, whose work went practically unnoticed for eight decades. With the exhibition Arissa. "The Shadow and the Photographer" 1922-1936, Espacio Fundacion Telefonica will be reappraising this artist and giving him his first photographic retrospective, which can be visited from 4th June to 14th September on the 3rd floor.
The show is part of the PHotoEspanna 2014 Festival and curated by Valentin Vallhonrat and Rafael Levenfeld. It consists of over 160 black and white photographs that cover Arissa’s entire career, arranged into three stylistic groups: Pictorialism, between 1922 and 1928; his evolution towards modern visual solutions up to the early 1930s and the New Vision, from 1930 to 1936, when Arissa was a prime example of avant-garde photography.
The images have been taken from the collections of negatives preserved by Fundacion Telefonica and the Institute of Photographic Studies of Catalonia. The exhibition also includes the few print runs made by the artist that have been preserved on paper. This project continues the drive to recover old photographic material, launched by Fundacion Telefonica with the company’s Photographic Archive and subsequently expanded to include photographers like Luis Ramon Marin, Josep Branguli and Virxilio Vieitez.
The Beginnings: the Pictorialist Period
Antoni Arissa (Barcelona, 1900-1980) took up photography in the early 1920s, combining his work as a photographer with the family printing business. His beginnings need to be understood within the context of the Pictorialist movement, which emerged in 1890 among photographic associations and societies and sought the recognition of photography as an artistic discipline. During this period, his career coincided with that of other Spanish artists of the time, who distanced themselves from documentary photography and joined different artistic movements, from Pre-Raphaelism to Symbolism, ultimately arriving at a precious world full of dreamlike mysteries and atmospheres.
In 1922, Arissa, together with Josep Girabalt and Lluis Batlle founded the Agrupacio?n Fotogra?fica Saint-Victor (Saint-Victor Photographic Association), one year before the appearance of the Agrupacion Fotografica de Cataluna (Photographic Association of Catalonia), where the photographers of the time were trained. It was in this period, as part of this Association, when he carried out his early work as a Pictorialist photographer and portrayed rural scenes, rustic iconography with previously prepared scenes, literary descriptions of an Arcadia where traditional values endure and images of children who are redolent of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm or Perrault.
The Evolution Towards the New Vision
In the early 1930s, there was already a glimpse of a new way of understanding his photographic work. Arissa moved towards a modern form of photography, devoid of the ornaments and symbolic references of Pictorialism and closer to the approaches used in Central European photography, which was characterized by composition, shape, line, perspective and lighting that accentuated the qualities and the intention of the photographic objects.
His photographs abandoned the recreation of a nostalgic, aesthetic and literary past. Although the narrative props from his previous stage survived, he now introduced abstract spaces with bright lighting, low angle shots, shadows, new angles and graphic elements. His images, which had previously relied on literary structures, were now conceptual, and his compositions became perfect visual arrangements.
This change in what and how to photograph was reinforced by several facets of the man, such as his career as a printer- publisher and his knowledge of typography. It was also reinforced by the rise of disciplines such as advertising, where avant-garde photography found its place, with photographers from Arissa’s generation such as Pere Catala Pic, Emili Godes and Josep Masana. It was also a result of the appearance of new publications that covered stylistic devices from the new photography (Estudis, D’Aci i d’Alla, Ford magazine and Art de la llum) and articles by Manuel Abril and Salvador Dali that called for the implementation of new photographic languages.
This was his shift towards photographic conceptualization, in which he rejected the tenets of Pictorialism and focused his work on little details. Both his family and his own home now became scenes for his work: the house, the garden, hallways, everyday objects and his own daughters were turned into graphic elements. Gradually, this circle widened beyond his family and led him to portray the streets and the port of Barcelona. From this point, any fragment of reality could be the subject of his photographic activity.