Madrid, you’re on the air : PhotoEspana 2007

And now another installment from one of our readers, Guillermo Shelley, on the PhotoEspana show in Madrid.

Making Time (or the joy of looking at Art and trying to understand it)


Making time is the title that Thomas Struth gave to his show at the Prado Museum . Can a title for a photo show be more appropriate?

Some fancy Prado officials, myself and a few coolish photographers and reporters attended Mr. Struth’s guided visit of his works last night (I got sneaked in by my friend Martha Soul of NOPHOTO as apparently this event was not open to all, ay, ay, ay…). Mr. Struth was very kind and stood talking to us for the better part of two hours to the backdrop of his 6 feet wide images.

I won’t go into all that he said —let if suffice to say he spoke of time, speed, and density in the modern world and of the joy of looking at Art and trying to understand it—, but I would like to express to you and your readers the feeling that I got that this was a very important moment in Photography that went by totally unnoticed. Thomas Struth is the first live artist ever to show at the Prado… and he is a photographer. How can this not be important to the photographic community? Let me remind you that the Prado Museum is the home to the best of Goya and Velazquez (tilde over the a in Spanish), two references for just about everybody in the Art World. Prado authorities considered the work of this man to be of such excellence that it deserved to be used to inaugurate the new halls; they could have chosen anybody in the world instead.

In recent years we have seen how photography is being taken more seriously in terms of the big A (consider the loads of bills bucketed for Andreas Gursky’s 99 cent II and this show, IMHO, will either add to this becoming of age or will be the biggest flop for Prado curators. I hope it is the former. It is like saying: ‘OK, boys, you have been behaving lately, we are going to let you into our very exclusive club’.

In his opening words Mr. Struth expressed how important this show is to him, after all, besides this being the Prado, the show also represents the culmination of 16 years of work. It was a moment that he would have wanted to have shared with family and friends and we were all strangers to him there. I bet he felt like clenching his fists and shouting YES, YES, YES… instead he had to keep a straight face and answer questions about Walter Benjamin and The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. A small price to pay.

Before the Struth event I visited Bruce Davidson’s exhibit of his Central Park images. Allow me to get perhaps too personal by saying that I am very fond of Mr. Davidson’s work, I attended a workshop with him in 1986 and he taught me everything about getting up close (the workshop was called Eye to Eye), he changed the way I do my photography (since then I have been using the 24mm as my normal lens).

That being said, I have to admit that I was a bit let down by this show. I still admire his ability to get up close, and how, unlike Struth, none of his images are stolen (Struth remains foreign to Museum visitors, he is a spectator). Mr. Davidson goes up to people and speaks to them, he tells them how he finds them interesting, he is completely upfront about his intentions. Not many can do that in the conditions he has done it (East 100th, Brooklyn Gang, NYC Subway, and, yes, Central Park; see this link . However, in this show there are some images, more than I would be comfortable with, that I find perplexing. They made me think: “what did HE see in this shot that I fail to see”. Others, of course are unquestionable and a joy to see and learn from.

I have been to other shows, but I will keep my comments to myself on those.

Still pending is the Lynn Davies Greenland show; I do hope I get a chance to see it.

Well, that is it from not yet sunny Spain.

Thanks Guillermo for this very cool report.
Is there an event in your part of the world you would like to share? Let us know the specifics, and we’ll get you you byline.

Damon Webster


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