/ 16 October 2019

Week of the Festival: Madrid, Spain

Photobooks and the Economic Crisis

Conserving Spain

All forms of artistic expression, in one way or another, are the result of the political and social conditions of their time, and the photobook is no exception. The so-called phenomenon of the Spanish photobook broke out at the beginning of the 2010s, in the context of a strong economic crisis, then it increasingly accelerated with the reaction of the 15M movement and in light of the latest technological advances.

The crisis in 2008, after the fall of the financial giant Lehman Brothers in the United States and its contagion to the economies of the entire planet, infected Spain with special virulence, creating a great social emergency: Evictions, unemployment (especially among the youth) and widespread edginess. In reaction to such a terrible situation, the Plaza de la Puerta del Sol in Madrid was filled with ‘indignados’ camping in a protest that expanded throughout Spain: It was the 15M movement, referring to 15 May 2011 when, after a demonstration calling for ‘real democracy’, a group of protesters decided to set up their camp in the centre of the capital of Spain.

The 15M spoke of self-organisation, assembly, horizontality and, although the conservative Popular Party won the elections again, certain ideas remained in the collective unconscious. A movement from below, self-organised around small publishers and printers, photographic groups, photographers who did things their own way (doing all the editorial work themselves), festivals with hardly any institutional support and, in general, artists who shared hobbies and concerns.

There was no space in galleries or in the media. There were few opportunities for young photographers to show their work. From a precarious base, and with the consequent freedom that this grants, photobooks began to be published, some of them mere fanzines, books of an artistic nature where all their dimensions mattered: They were not mere photography catalogues, but something else. Some notable publishers emerged, such as Dalpine or Riot Books, among others, although many prominent projects were self-published. The technological possibilities for these editions had been democratised and it was suddenly possible to edit a book almost without leaving home. The talent did the rest.

In 2013 the book Karma by Óscar Monzón was awarded as the best bookat the Paris Photo fair. One of the most important photography magazines in the world, the British Journal of Photography, published in June 2014 an edition the cover of which read ‘Viva España!’ with the subtitle: ‘Spanish are coming: A golden generation emerges’. A golden generation, although that gold was more in talent than in its means to carry out its work, marginalised by the crisis.

Some photobooks were devoted to socio-political issues: For example, The Pigs, by Carlos Spottorno, which reflected the worst consequences of the crisis in Spain (‘pigs’ is the acronym used in certain economic areas during the Great Recession for Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain). C.E.N.S.U.R.A.(C.E.N.S.O.R.S.H.I.P) by Julián Barón denounced media manipulation that hid corruption and bad policies. You Haven´t Seen Their Faces by Daniel Mayrit pointed out as criminals the executives of the City of London suspected of collaborating in the unleashing of the crisis. Part of Ricardo Cases' work focused on urban speculation and the tourist destruction of the Spanish coast.

Economic crises are a phenomenon characteristic of capitalism that should be eradicated because it is always the weakest that are most harmed and sometimes even expelled from the system. The powerful have obsessively repeated that Chinese proverb: The crisis is an opportunity. And, in spite of everything, this is true for the movements of vindication and self-organisation from the ground, which in times of economic bonanza and well-being appear dormant. It is true for the creativity that flourishes in the freedom unleashed by despair. We do not know if welfare will return. What they tell us is that there is another economic crisis, like a black cloud, in the very near future. We will see if it also produces explosions of creativity or simply the End of the World. And the End of the Photobooks, as well.

By Sergio C. Fanjul, a training astrophysicist and vocational poet. He writes about culture and science in the newspaper El País, where he is also a columnist. He is a radio speaker in â€‹Poesía o Barbarie (M21) and a teacher at the School of Creative Writing Hotel Kafka, as well as a member of the polypoetic duo Los Peligro. He has published the books Otros demonios, La Crisis: Econopoemas, Inventario de of Invertebrados and Pertinaz Freelance. He has also written the book of stories Genio de Extrarradio (2012) and recently published the miscellaneous volume La vida instantánea (2018), where his lyrical Facebook posts are collected.