IN PICS: The 10 best exhibitions at PHotoEspaña 2018

In honour of its 20th anniversary, Madrid’s international festival of photography and visual arts, PHotoEspaña, has curated 100 exhibitions which comprise the work of 514 artists spread out over 62 venues.

IN PICS: The 10 best exhibitions at PHotoEspaña 2018

The exhibitions assemble photographs from May until September by both internationally renowned artists and  homegrown Spanish favourites, from collections by the legendary Magnum agency to the first photographic outing of Spain’s leading film director Pedro Almodóvar. Here are The Local’s picks:

Pedro Almodóvar – ‘Vida Detenida’, Marlborough Gallery. June 7th-September 8th

A still life from Pedro Almodóvar's exhibition. Credit: Marlborough Gallery.

While working on the script for his upcoming film Dolor y gloria (Pain and Glory), Spanish cinema legend Pedro Almodóvar began to take still life photographs around his house to entertain himself during breaks. Almodóvar describes the resulting work, which brings together 30 intimate images of household objects such as dishes, flowers and food, as being “born out of moments of solitude and stillness.” They will be exhibited at the Marlborough Gallery from June 7th until September 8th. 

Magnum Photographers Come out to Play, Espacio Fundación Telefónica. May 9th-September 16th

A Carolyn Drake photograph from the Magnum collection. Credit: PHotoEspaña

In this exhibition, over 20 photographers from the iconic Magnum agency present works that aim to show the often highbrow collective in a more “relaxed” mode, unburdened by the expectation of “having to engrave in stone universal truths in each shot”. ‘Players’ presents 150 photographs linked by the theme of ‘play’. 

The Greatest Show on Earth, Centro Cultural de la Villa. June 6th-July 29th

Credit: PHotoEspaña

The Greatest Show on Earth collects images from the Archive of Modern Conflict that display the weird and wonderful world of circus life during its early 20th century golden era, brought together to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the modern circus.

Carmen Calvo – Repose and Dizziness, Cerralbo Museum. June 8th-September 16th

Credit: PHotoEspaña

Valencian artist and Winner of the National Visual Arts Award Carmen Calvo repurposes family photos from the mid-twentieth century found in markets, modifying the forgotten images to lend them new meanings in work in which “feminism and social, moral and religious critique all interlace”.

Carlos Cánovas – In Time, ICO Museum. May 30th-September 9th

Credit: PHotoEspaña

This retrospective of the work of lauded Spanish photographer Carlos Cánovas collates work from the 1980s to the present day, which form a “record of urban transformation” with a focus on landscapes “where nature and human intervention converge”. 

Cecil Beaton: Myths of the 20th Century, Canal de Isabel II Foundation. May 31st-August 19th

Credit: PHotoEspaña

Portrait photographer to the Winsdors and Vogue magazine and two time Academy Award winner for Best Costume, revered British lensman Cecil Beaton is celebrated in this retrospective which gathers some of his finest work from the 1920s to the 1970s. 

The Soviet Century: Russian Photography from the Lafuente Archive, Circulo de Bellas Artes. June 6th-September 16th

Credit: PHotoEspaña

Alberto Ruiz de Samaniego curates over 800 images that document the social and political evolution of Russia during the 20th century, gathering not only photographs but other artefacts such as postcards and negatives that reveal details of life during the rise of the Soviet regime.

Discovering Luis Masson, Museo Lázaro Galdiano. June 6th-August 26th

Credit: PHotoEspaña

This extraordinary exhibition recovers the until now undiscovered work of French photographer Luis Masson, which forms a topography of various Spanish cities and regions in the mid-nineteenth century. The images document the nation from Andalusia to Madrid to the Basque Country during the earliest stages of photography. 

Moda! Spanish fashion through photography, Museo del Traje. June 14th-September 23rd

Credit: PHotoEspaña

Photographs from international publications such as Vogue, Elle and Harpers Bazaar are brought together to honour Spanish fashion of various periods and styles during the last hundred years.

s.m.a.r.t Paths Towards Sustainability, Real Jardín Botánico. June 7th-August 26th

Credit: PHotoEspaña

The theme that links this exhibition, which gathers the work of eight different photographers, is the damage inflicted on the environment by human activity and the possibility of achieving sustainability. It aims to encourage the five concepts the acronym of the title refers to:  Sustainability, Mitigation, Adaptation, Resilience and Transformation.

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In pictures: Meet the American street photographer documenting Madrid’s invisible population

When Michael Damanti, a photographer from the United States, moved to Madrid five years ago with his Spanish wife and two children he expected to make a bunch of new friends in the new city.

In pictures: Meet the American street photographer documenting Madrid's invisible population
A Romani girl begging in central Madrid. All photos: Michael Damanti

But what he didn’t count on was that he would meet a group of people that would have such a profound influence on his everyday life and work.

The man behind the lens: Damanti taking a selfie with his new friends.

“In 2015 I was an outsider in this country, trying to learn the language and find work. A chance encounter soon changed that, forming the beginnings of a long-term photographic series about Romani population in Europe, he told The Local.

“Walking home one day from another disappointing day of cliche photos, I came across a Roma Girl sleeping on the ground holding an old change cup. Her name was Sibella. I knelt down to take her photograph and as I stood up I noticed another Roma-girl walking right towards me saying, “What are you doing? That is my sister!” That was the day I met the “Cobadin-Girls of Sol”.

“Over the next four years I met with them every day, carefully documenting their story and gradually becoming absorbed into their lives. We have been through births, deaths, arrests, fights and the day to day struggles we all endure.”

What he has produced is a remarkable set of photographs of a group of people who are at best invisible to society and at worst, the frequent targets of abuse.

At first, he approached them with handmade signs with witty slogans, such as 'freewifi' and '#Brexit: Keep calm and give me money' to replace the ineffectual ones they had written themselves.

“This was the way into their lives, I noticed their signs were incredibly long (5-6 lines) and 100 percent trite and boring.  No one was reading them. So I offerend alternatives, lighthearted signs with quick simple messages in English for the tourists. This began the friendship.”

But it soon developed into a deeper friendship, one in which they invited him to dine with the family group as they cooked up stews in cardboard shelters under the roadside bridges where they sleep at night.

He even introduced them to the concept of birthday parties, after realising that for the most part, they didn’t even know how old they were, let alone celebrate the occasion.

“I happened to ask one of the girls when her birthday was and she didn't know.  I couldn't believe it so I asked all of them….. one by one they each shook their heads and asked me why it mattered to know that,” he explained.  

“I read their ID's and realized one of the girl's birthdays was in a week.  So I bought a cupcake and a candle and introduced them to the concept of birthday parties.  They had no idea what to do. I lit the candle, sang happy birthday and then stood their as they all stared at me.  

“I had to tell the girls to blow out the candle. Little by little they embraced the birthday ritual and now they all want a party on their special day.”

What has consistently surprised him is the level of racism they endure on a daily basis.

“Some men make sexual advances on the girls. That's the worst. I've seen old women spit at them.  I've seen shop owners throw drinks in a pregnant girl's face just for begging near his shop. But the one that stands out most was the black eye on Sevda's face given to her by two drunk teenagers as she slept under a bridge while seven month's pregnant,” he recounts.  

“The nastiest comments always come from elderly people or football fans.”

But sometimes he has witnessed people showing them kindness too. “However, there are a fair share of delightful gestures and comments from others.  People bring them clothes and food or buy them ice cream.  That’s a breath of fresh air.”

As a result, Damanti has become an advocate for Romani rights, and will be talking about the issue at an event organised by Madrid For Refugees.

“Originally I got involved simply to take an interesting photograph but it has taken on a life of its own. I expected to photograph the people in Sol, but I did not expect to like them so much.   So I'd like to help them if I can… be that bringing awareness to their marginalized existance or just bringing them clothes. But most importantly, treating them as friends and giving them the same respect I would to you or anyone else.”

To see more of Michael Damanti's photographs visit his website and for tickets for the Madrid For Refugees event on Saturday February 22 click HERE.