This is a post I wrote but never published, mostly because I was just too busy to really cover the festival in depth, as I had intended. I loved this show, though, so I thought I post it now:
The first official selection opening (there are more openings per evening than you can imagine or hope to make it too that for part of the "off festival" of PHE) I was able to attend was the Ugo Mulas show at the BBVA building. You have no idea how supportive of the arts major companies and especially banks are in Spain. Many have incredible collections and are big sponsors of events such as PHE. Don't get me started on how ridiculously supportive the Spanish government is of the arts in comparison to ours.
I'd never heard of Ugo Mulas before, but I've made a point to attend all of the official selection openings and have made some nice discoveries. Mulas has been my favorite. A photographer's photographer, Mulas shot portraits (many of artists), landscapes, fashion, commercial work, and experimented with the technical aspects of chemical photography (more on this in a minute).
I particularly liked his quote that I didn't write down but basically said that he worked commercially to pay the rent and only shot what he considered legitimate or noble work 10% of the time. He said he felt, though, that if he had to shoot the commercial stuff to live, he might as well pour all of his effort into it, which felt more honest.
I've always thought that if, Picasso for example, were looking down from somewhere at his current shows, he'd likely be screaming, "What, what are you thinking putting that preparatory drawing up on a museum wall?! That was never intended to be shown!" Well, there was an example of that in the Mulas show also, where they'd printed his bracketed shots large for some bizarre reason, rather the one where the exposure was "correct." I think a curator's job for dead artists is to at least try to figure out what the artist would have intended for their own shows and present that but back to the good stuff.
In one piece, Ugo finds himself sitting across from Giacometti at an outdoor cafe as he is told he's just won the grand prize for sculpture at the 1962 Venice Bienale and starts shooting. This sequence of four photos shows the incredible range of emotion shooting through Giacometti's being and feels quite human in that we can all understand that feeling of having one's work and effort recognized.
My favorite section of the show was his Verifications series for which he took photos "whose subject matter was photography itself...meant to clear the meaning of those operations I have been repeating for years, hundred of times a day, without never stopping to consider their inherent value and always seeing only their utilitarian side."
Now I'm not always the biggest fan of text accompanying work, but I'll admit it does make sense at times and this is one instance of text perfectly complimenting or even enhancing the visual experience. You can see the whole series along with the text that was presented at the show here and I highly recommend spending some time with this, which would become his final work.
I particularly loved Mulas calling Friedlander's work his "quest." That hit home. Other notables from Verifications:
I could also say that this homage to Niepce represents 36 opportunities lost, or rather, 36 opportunities refused, in an age where, as Robert Frank writes talking about photojournalism, the air has been tainted by the smell of photography.
Maybe here, as in the subsequent self-portrait with Nini there is the obsession of being present, of seeing myself while I am seeing, of taking part and being involved. Or rather there is the awareness that the camera is not part of me, but is an additional medium whose significance cannot be either overestimated or underestimated. Precisely for this reason, it is a medium which leaves me out just when I am most present.
PhotoEspaña is an incredible festival in an amazing city and I highly recommend a visit. It opens your eyes to amazing bodies of work you never new existed or, as in the case of Evidence, had never gotten the chance to see. I can't recommend a visit enough. Too bad the airlines are charging 1980's prices for flights these days...