For the last 20 years Valerie Belin (Boulogne-Billancourt, France, 1964) has found its place on the international scene of photography through a work that blurs the delicate line between reality and illusion and investigates the artifice of representation. His images feature human beings and objects. Both subjected to a process of transformation, in order to fit into the stereotypes and the dictates of appearance established by today’s society. Hence, Belin’s portraits are never what they seem. Observed from a distance they question the perception and ideas of those who contemplate them. A small representation of the artist’s most emblematic photographic series will soon be seen in the Plaza de la Inmaculada de Palencia, in an outdoor installation that constitutes the highlight of the first edition of the Castilla y León International Photography Festival, which will be held between April 20 and May 29 in Palencia.
Full of sophistication, Belin’s work moves away from naturalism and documentary photography to investigate some of the issues that define our time. “It deals with the issue of identity; of its limits and its representation, of stereotypes, of gender, of what appears and is not, also of fiction and above all of interchangeable identities “, points out Anne Morin, curator of the festival:” The 21st century is marked due to a great identity crisis and I have considered it essential to highlight this issue ”.
PHOTO GALLERY: Selection of images from the Castilla y León International Photography Festival
The images are displayed in cubes three meters high. Large formats offer a variety of details that help the confused viewer to solve their doubts. Versus Transsexuals (2001) it will not be easy to find out if the subject of the image is a man or a woman. It will be the hairs on the chin that clarify the misunderstanding. The Serie Black women (2001) alludes to “object-faces”; chosen as protagonists for their striking sculptural beauty, the praised and contrasted plasticity of the dark faces displaces the subject into a purely abstract field. From afar, the seductive countenance that makes up one of the pieces in the series Mannequins (2003) could belong to a real woman, but as one gets closer one wonders if it is a photograph of an object, a photograph of a painting or the painting of a photograph. Belin reconstructs the virtual perfect woman through a hyper-realistic mannequin. On Painted ladies (2017), the dull and expressionless faces of some models come to life through brush strokes. They look like animated paintings. They raise questions both about the nature of the photographic medium and about the relationship between photography and painting, figuration and abstraction, reality and fiction.
Very close to the pictorial tradition, Belin draws on such opposite references as the Italian Baroque and minimalism. The camera becomes an intermediary between the author and the real world. Thus, due to the autobiographical nature of her work, women, who are more prone to being a victim of stereotypes, become the protagonists of her images. His work alludes to the instability of life, the fragility and strangeness that being alive entails, as well as the consequences of globalization and the ‘virtualization’ of our society.
A place of meeting and reflection
There are a total of 50 artists that make up the program of this ambitious festival that aspires to become an international reference. Organized by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Castilla y León, it has the collaboration of The Lucie Awards of New York and the École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie de Arlés and emerges as a place for meeting and reflection. Hence, its exhibition program is accompanied by a series of conversations with curators, historians and photographers, such as the one between David Campany (curator, writer and program director of the International Center of Photography in New York) and Roger Szmulewicz, who will revolve around the work of William Klein.
Klein’s work is situated at the confluence of the photographic image and the film sequence. This intersection configures one of the axes on which the festival is based and on which three of the great masters of photography meet: Robert Frank’s cinema dialogues with a sequence of photographs by Lee Friedlander, with a clear cinematographic character, New cars, (1964), rescued a little over a decade ago from the archives of the North American artist. Isabel Coixet, 2020 National Cinematography Prize winner, has been invited to select four films made by women, including Capturing Lee Miller, a documentary dedicated to the American photographer directed by Teresa Griffiths.
Sandro Miller presents GLORY: My Hair, My Soul, My Freedom (“GLORIA: My hair, my soul, my freedom”), a series of photographs with which he pays tribute to African women through the representation of their hairstyles as an identity code. The images establish a dialogue with Belin’s work and with the work of a local photographer, Álvaro de Castro Cea, who at the beginning of the 20th century opened a studio in the Palencia municipality of Ampudia. His legacy is a testament to the time centered in a rural setting. “His exquisite and intimate treatment of the portrait is reminiscent of the work of American Mike Disfarmer,” Morin notes. The anthropomorphic portraits of Miguel Vallinas, another local author, affect the issue of identity from the idea of duplicity.
Highlights Splash, a collection of 90 Polaroid images vintages, which brings together great figures from the second half of the 20th century, as well as The dark side of the American dream, where the beat of the street serves as a reflection of the history of a country, through the work of Joel Meyerowitz. The exhibition also reveals the transition from black and white to color by this pioneer of color photography.
Best of Show exhibits the work of 41 young photographers participating in the prestigious International Photography Awards 2002 (International Photography Award) and is a window to the younger sector of contemporary creation “It has been very interesting to see how an interest in humanist photography is currently recovering , as happened after the Second World War ”, says Morín, who was selected as the guest curator of the last edition of the contest.
Castilla y León International Photography Festival. Palencia. From April 20 to May 29.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.