Santander venue of Juan Silió gallery is hosting for the first time in an art gallery, under the title Carlos Saura: Agente revelador, a selection of the early years of the photographic work by the Aragonese filmmaker, who passed away at the beginning of this year.
The developing agent, or photographic developer, is the chemical solution that allows the image to take the form of the negative in black and white photography. It is precisely black and white photographs that are the focus of this exhibition, showing a recent past in Spain, of a practically abandoned rural world that suffered serious problems of poverty and, it might be said, underdevelopment. This situation was a defining feature of the rural-urban migration of the 1960s and the migration to European countries following the relaxation of state interventionism in those same years. A problem that over time has become chronic and is now known as “Empty Spain”.
Carlos Saura’s personal photographic work in the mid-20th century is evidence of a Spain still recovering from the devastation of the Spanish Civil War and during Franco dictatorship, especially in rural areas, which remained stuck in the previous century. This is especially clear in series such as Sanabria, which is the result of the photographs he took as part of a project for Red Eléctrica that could not be completed due to the loss of the recorded material. The influence of Buñuel’s Las Hurdes documentary is clear in this series as well as in others from these years. In Cuenca and Cuenca, paisajes, pueblos y gente (Cuenca, Landscapes, Villages and People), we see not only the Spanish post-war, but also the evolution of the self-taught photographer Saura, trained by trial and error. In these series of the rural environment, in addition to the document, Saura’s own experiences and first professional experiences are also present. He was closely linked to Cuenca in his youth, and he even filmed a documentary about the city on commission.
This contrasts with the more carefully points of view and developing, on the one hand, and, on the other, the seemingly happiness and modernity of Madrid or La tarde del domingo, his first film for the Film School. We can glimpse in these images the progress of Spain on the verge of opening up to the outside world – La tarde del domingo was shot in 1957 – after twenty years of strict economic interventionism. This more comfortable life in the city turns into difficulty and poverty when, among the pedestrians, we find people with clear economic problems, subjected to the rigid customs of that time, or neighbourhoods where it seems that the modern Madrid of shops and leisure has not yet arrived. At the same time, in this Sunday dance we discover that it is one of the few moments of leisure for the maids in the wealthy houses of the capital, after a week of endless working days in conditions that would be unthinkable today, which was also the guiding thread of this first work as a director.
Saura’s interest is focused on reflecting, with an objectivity close to that of a photojournalist, the inhabitants, the contexts of the places he inhabits and visits. Images, which over time have become a valuable graphic document of a country which continues to suffer its consequences, although it no longer exists. He himself described in interviews and articles what this photography meant at the time and subsequently: “Perhaps the most interesting thing about my photographs from those years is the realisation that the passing of time has given them added value. In the fifties there were few of us who were photographically curious about a country governed by General Franco with the collaboration of an inquisitorial church and a brutal police force that watched over the morality-immorality of customs. Spain was then a country with medieval reminiscences, famine, and darkness. The photographs now on display, some of which are extremely grainy, with obvious defects in exposure and contrasts, are the testimony, my testimony, of a period in Spain that now seems lost in the centuries”. Saura thus presents himself as the revealing agent who shows us the contradictory reality of the country during Francoist dictatorship.
This show is part of OFF Festival of:
September 1st – October 21st, 2023
Curation and text by Míriam Callejo
Galería Juan Silió
C/ Sol 45, bajo. 39003 Santander.
Tuesday – Saturday,
10:30AM – 1:30PM
6 – 9PM