In the spring of 2023 Huis Marseille will present a retrospective of the work of the Spanish photographer Carlos Pérez Siquier (1930-2021). Pérez Siquier occupies a key role in Spanish photography, first through his neorealist work in black and white and later as a pioneer of colour photography. He was nevertheless seen as an outsider in Spanish photography, as he spent his entire career living and working in his native town of Almería, a peripheral coastal town in the south-east of the Iberian Peninsula. Pérez Siquier’s work not only bears important witness to the development of Spanish photography, but also to the cultural and socio-economic transformation of postwar Spain. The exhibition is organized by Fundación MAPFRE in close collaboration with Huis Marseille.
Carlos Pérez Siquier’s work is strongly characterized by spontaneity, an interest in the human condition, irony, and an awareness of the power of the photographic gaze. His oeuvre shares his amazement about everyday life. The exhibition provides an overview of his most important series, made between 1957 and 2018: from his earliest work in black and white, marked by incisive social critique, to his later series in colour, which show Spain in the postwar years of the Franco regime, a period during which an apparently free, modern consumer society began to emerge. Later series, in which the sharp contrasts of his early years give way to more poetic, introspective work, are also included in the exhibition.
Focusing on La Chanca
One of Carlos Pérez Siquier’s most striking features is his status as a ‘peripheral’ artist. He never moved to any of Spain’s important artistic centres, such as Barcelona or Madrid, but continued to live and work in his native town of Almería for his whole life. In his earliest series a poor working-class neighbourhood of this town, an area known as La Chanca, forms a recurring subject. Pérez Siquier had great admiration for the spirit of its residents and wanted to capture their dignity, their way of life and their social interaction, which dated from before the mass migration of people from the poverty-stricken countryside to the working-class districts of the larger Spanish cities. An important part of the exhibition is formed by Pérez Siquier’s photo reportage La Chanca, a series in which – first in black and white, and later in colour – he uses candid photography to document the identity of the area, looking beneath and beyond its impoverishment and neglect. He gives the people of La Chanca their own voice, and introduces a new element to the neorealist genre: a sense of humour.
A pioneer of colour photography
Another important theme in the exhibition is the use of colour. In the 1960s Pérez Siquier switched to colour film and produced intense, strongly contrasting images. His work reflects the kitsch idiom of the consumer society that was emerging due to the rise of mass tourism along the Mediterranean coast. Pérez Siquier observes this phenomenon with a mixture of interest and astonishment. He first uses colour to document La Chanca, in the series La Chanca en color (1962-1969) and lnformalismos (1965). However, the series La Playa (1972-1980), in which he zooms in on the wave of tourists surging onto the beaches of Almería and the rest of the Spanish Mediterranean coast, sealed Pérez Siquier’s reputation as a pioneer of colour photography – a medium that had hitherto enjoyed little artistic respect.
His outsider position did not prevent Pérez Siquier from radically rejecting Spain’s prevailing artistic ideas and becoming a driving force behind the most influential photography collective of his time: AFAL (Agrupación Fotográfica Almeriense). Together with the chairman of this collective, José María Artero, he launched a magazine, AFAL, which became an important platform not only for their own work but also for work by the most interesting, innovative and influential young Spanish photographers of the day. Today the AFAL group is seen as the most important modernizing movement in the history of Spanish photography. The exhibition includes a selection of AFAL issues.
Collection presentation: Coco Capitán
Together with the retrospective of Pérez Siquier’s work, Huis Marseille is showing a selection from its own collection by the Spanish artist Coco Capitán, who enjoys an international reputation for both her autonomous and her commissioned work. In her photographic work Capitán focuses on the everyday, illuminating the strangeness and splendour that is so often overlooked, ‘actively implicating the viewer as part of her visual dialogue to the experience of connectedness that is embedded in the process of looking,’ according to her gallery Maximillian William. In this sense Capitán’s work can be seen as a contemporary counterpart of the work of Pérez Siquier.
Carlos Pérez Siquier (1930-2021) is a key figure in Spanish photography, first through his neorealist work in black and white, and later as a pioneer of colour photography. He is seen as an outsider because he chose to remain living and working in his birthplace of Almería, a peripheral location on the coast of southern Spain – an area that his work documents extensively. Here, over the course of more than sixty years, Pérez Siquier built a photographic oeuvre with which he engaged explicitly in Spanish social debate.
Pérez Siquier presented the effects of societal transformation in a playful, but simultaneously profound and critical way. This links him to the Pop Art movement, to independent film-makers of the 1960s, and to the literature of his generation. His work depicts the fringes of society, the far-reaching visual influence of Francoist development projects, and the culture shock that was brought about by the arrival in Spain of huge numbers of foreign tourists. In subtle ways he shows how the new, colourful and sensual image culture they engendered offered only a superficial remedy for postwar trauma in Spain’s coastal regions.
In his later years Pérez Siquier distanced himself from this image culture and started making more personal and introspective work. Silent landscapes and interiors suggest a peaceful alienation and a retreat by an artist who has said ‘now all that’s left is my gaze’. This shift – from social critique, through the sceptical celebration of consumer society, to withdrawal and introspection – reflects a truly paradigmatic shift in postwar European society.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue containing contributions from the curators (Carlos Gollonet, chief curator of photography at the Fundación MAPFRE, and the independent curator Carlos Martín), a conversation between Carlos Pérez Siquier and the historian of photography Laura Terré, and an essay by the poet, essayist and novelist Juan Goytisolo.
The exhibition Pérez Siquier – Colours and Contrasts of Spain is organized by Fundación MAPFRE in close collaboration with Huis Marseille. The exhibition has been on show in Madrid and Frankfurt and will be hosted by Huis Marseille in Amsterdam between 25 March and 18 June 2023.