Monday, September 27

‘This is our cultural heritage’: Spanish photographers search for national archives | Spain

SPain’s best-known photographers have supported a new campaign to establish a national center to catalog, share, protect and promote the country’s rich and diverse photographic history.

The Platform for a Photography and Image Center – whose members include Ramon Masats, Isabel Munoz, Alberto Garcia-Alix, Juan Manuel Castro Prieto Y Cristina Garcia Rodero – points out that Spain is one of the few countries in the EU that does not have a center dedicated exclusively to photography.

“Comparisons are always hateful, but when it comes to photography, they are even more hateful,” Castro Prieto, president of the platform, told The Guardian.

“Basically, photographers have always been left with our own devices. Governments have never cared about the needs of photographers, who take the pictures, keep their archives, and then try to spread the word about their work. Governments have not helped them promote their work abroad nor have they worked to safeguard their files when they die. “

The platform manifest argues that the continuing lack of a permanent center means individual archives are being lost forever, and urges the government to act before even more visual fragments of Spain’s social and cultural heritage disappear.

A man with a mask contemplates an exhibition of works by the Spanish photographer Ramón Masats in Tabacalera last August.
A man with a mask contemplates an exhibition of works by the Spanish photographer Ramón Masats in Tabacalera last August. Photography: Miguel Pereira

Its appeal to a national center is not new, but successive attempts to secure one have failed. The 2008 financial crisis put an end to the plans to set up the center in Madrid, while another set up attempt in the northeastern city of Soria failed two years later.

“They always promised us, but it never happened,” said Castro Prieto, who won Spain’s national photography award in 2015.

“In the past, people viewed photography as a minor art form. But today the opposite is true. The problem is that people are now saying that there is no need for a national center dedicated to photography because photography is widely represented in museums alongside other forms of art. But as photographers, we have a problem when it comes to archives. “

Castro Prieto tells stories of archives left to rot in dusty chicken coops and of photographers throwing the works of their lives into the trash because they have no storage space and cannot digitize them. Meanwhile, other files are being seized by corporate buyers or ending up in the hands of foreign private collectors, depriving Spaniards of the opportunity to view them.

“If governments are not looking for all these files, then there must be a national center that seeks to appreciate their value, take care of them, digitize them and show them to the world,” he said. “At the end of the day, the problem is money and political will.”

Castro Prieto said that the center and its proposed virtual network of regional archives will serve to promote photography, generate national and international interest, and help reflect on and celebrate the work of women and youth photographers.

The platform also calls for a greater focus on college degrees in photography, saying the lack of options and investment means that “numerous photographers have to teach themselves or pay large amounts for private tuition.”

Sandra maunac, an independent curator and member of the platform, said that the support of the 17 winners of the national living photography award, along with that of dozens of art workers and cultural organizations, gave the campaign unprecedented influence.

“What we have achieved this time is to create an association that represents the multiplicity of roles within this complex photographic universe. We are doing things the right way, ”he said. “It’s time to stop working separately and start working together.”

In a statement, the Ministry of Culture of Spain said that it had supported the foundation of the platform, had met with its members “and remains open to maintaining fluid contact to learn about future projects that they may propose.”

García-Alix, who became famous for his photographic chronicles of Madrid’s post-Franco cultural boom, said he had no idea why Spain still lacked the means to celebrate and preserve a vital aspect of its visual past.

“There is a big gap in Spanish photography that needs to be filled; this is a really important part of everyone’s cultural heritage,” he said.

“We need the center to safeguard this heritage so that it can be developed and used as a stimulus. All of this should have happened in the last century, but the platform presents a unique opportunity to fight for a national photography center. “

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