Autumn 2003

City of international photography

PhotoEspaña (PHE03)

Madrid, 11 June–13 July 2003

Now in its sixth year, PhotoEspaña celebrates the best in photography from around the world.

This year’s theme, NosOtros (Identity and Otherness) completes the identity project developed by artistic director Oliva María Rubio over the past three years. The two previous years saw identity explored through territory and gender, while this year has allowed for a more general overview that includes social, religious and political contexts.

In total, some 300 exhibitions in galleries, museums, art centres as well as smaller commercial galleries, turn the capital into a photographic Mecca for one short month.

At Cultural Conde Duque, a number of exhibitions review the way society deals with mental health. Raymond Depardon uses video to document the San Clemente psychiatric hospital in Venice, while Claudio Edinger’s powerful and poignant black and white studies of asylum inmates raise questions about patient care and Nancy Burson explores facial anomalies in children with dignity and strength.

At the Centro Cultural de la Villa, Jaume Blassi’s black and white images of the Quechua Indians of the Andes, who are the verge of extinction, are a superb example of documentary photography in the tradition of Edward S. Curtis’s The North American Indian.

Jewish photographers Efrat Shvily, Michal Rovner, Matei Glass and Didier Ben Loulou question the social landscape of the Israel/Palestine conflict at the Círculo de Bellas Artes, with Shvily documenting the new settlements, Rovner and Glass examining their own history and Loulou producing almost abstract images of the psychological wounds of the areas’ inhabitants.

The same venue also shows the work of one of today’s most impressive photographers, Joel-Peter Witkin, whose large-scale elaborate prints explore the human condition, with reference to historical paintings and secular iconography.

Over at the Consejeria de las Artes there is a superb retrospective of photojournalist Christine Spengler who has spent the last 30 years photographing women and children in Chad, Northern Ireland, Vietnam, Kosovo and Afghanistan with a compassion so often missed by her male colleagues.

African photographer Samuel Fosso, showing at Real Jardín Botánico, has a unique take on the self-portrait. Having left his native Nigeria for the Central African Republic, he began taking self-portraits at the age of fourteen to show his family that he was well. Today, his work explores his personal fantasies, questions the West’s infringement upon African society and analyses the shaman’s impact upon cultural values.

Alongside the exhibitions there were masterclasses by Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Nancy Burson, Joel-Peter Witkin and Juergen Teller as well as workshops, portfolio reviews and night screenings.

Each year six prizes are awarded, including the PHE03 Best Photography Book prize, shared this year by Ferdinando Scianna for Quelli di Bagheria (Peliti Associati) and Home by Lars Tunbjörk (Steidl) and the PhotoEspaña prize won by Portuguese artist Helena Almeida.

Madrid is an opportunity for like-minded souls from around the world to gather and view some of the finest work being produced today. More importantly it is a platform upon which debate can be held about the current and future role of photography in our society.

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