Asuntos Fotográficos

A few weeks ago Le Monde M published this article about The Pigs.

"Les Petit cochons de l’Europe. La presse internationale les appelle les “Pigs” et montre du doigt ces quatre cancres de l’Europe, Portugal, Italie, Grèce et Espagne. Dans un livre qui pastiche la revue “The Economist”, le photographe Carlos Spottorno donne à voir les clichés qui collent à la peau de ces pays du Sud. Fainéantise, pagaille, archaïsme… Une satire tragi-comique. Par Louise Couvelaire

Dans la langue de Shakespeare, pigs signifie « cochons ». Dans la bouche des néolibéraux anglo-saxons et sous la plume de la presse internationale, c’est un acronyme – insultant – qui désigne les cancres de l’Europe : Portugal, Italie, Grèce et Espagne (Spain en anglais). Dans l’objectif du photographe Carlos Spottorno, c’est un livre, sorte de pamphlet tragi-comique qui traduit en images les stéréotypes qui collent à la peau de ces pays du Sud. Entre caricature et provocation, humour et sérieux. « C’est ainsi, j’imagine, que les économistes nous voient », explique l’artiste, qui vit à Madrid, en première page. C’est aussi ainsi qu’il les renvoie dans leurs buts. En usant des mêmes clichés et en détournant leurs armes. Couverture, papier, typographie, format, logo…

The Pigs est un pastiche de la bible des partisans du libéralisme économique, L’hebdomadaire The Economist, qui fustige à longueur de colonnes leur manque de discipline fiscale. Au fil des pages, on peut voir de jeunes Espagnols jouer au footballboue (version low cost du ballon rond sur gazon) ; une colline en bord de mer, en Grèce, jonchée de détritus ; des logements aux allures de châteaux médiévaux en carton-pâte ; des gens qui font la sieste dans la rue ou sous un arbre ; des vêtements qui sèchent au milieu de ruines en Italie ; des constructions inachevées ; un jeune homme, au Portugal, devant une barre d’immeubles tenant son cheval par une corde… Tous les clichés y passent. La fainéantise, la pagaille, la vétusté, l’archaïsme ou encore l’incapacité de mener à bout un projet. Né à Budapest en 1971, Carlos Spottorno, ancien directeur artistique dans une agence de publicité, s’est converti à la photographie en 2001. Entre deux projets personnels, il shoote les campagnes de marques telles que Nike et Vodaphone. Décrit par le quotidien britannique The Guardian comme « un activiste post-moderne », le photographe, qui a vécu à Rome, Paris et Madrid, peut se montrer lui aussi sévère à l’égard de ces pays qu’il dit « vieux, cyniques et individualistes ». Avant d’ajouter : « A l’opposé d’un guide de voyage, ce livre montre tout ce que nous estimons embarrassant, parfois à raison, et parfois de façon injuste. » La quatrième de couverture clôt cette satire avec une farce : la fausse publicité d’une banque avec la photo d’une Ferrari accompagnée du slogan : « Vous n’avez pas besoin d’argent, vous avez seulement besoin d’un crédit ». Sous le logo de l’établissement financier fictif figure cette phrase : « Vivez au-dessus de vos moyens ». Inventée par l’artiste, la WTF Bank (What The Fuck Bank) dispose d’un site Internet qui propose également d’acquérir une villa en Italie, une équipe de football, un morceau de terrain sur la Lune ou encore la jeunesse éternelle. Un ultime pied de nez à ces financiers qui ont accablé l’Europe du Sud tout en se comportant comme des… pigs."

Last December the 6th I presented China Western exhibition at La Chambre, in Strasbourg, France.

14 limited series prints 100 x 73 of some of the photos originally included in the book China Western were presented to the public, who was curious to know more about this isolated chinese province and the geopolitical matters that are explored within this project.

The day after I gave a workshop on Subjective Documentary Photography to 7 french photographers. It was nice, as workshops usually are.

It's amazing how la Chambre picked China Western for their 2013-2014 program, instead of going to the easier The Pigs, so much on the spot this year. China Western is a project I worked on for about 4 years, between 2006 and 2010, that went almost unnoticed, except for a reduced number of people in my own country. I'm glad it is somehow coming back to life. There will be some opportunities in the coming months to keep the exhibition traveling.

Thank you very much to Emeline Duffrenoy and Christophe Thiebaut, who found China Western in Madrid years ago, and waited the right moment to bring it to their place. Thanks to Stilbé, Etienne, Charlotte and the rest of the team.

Thak you also to Pepe Frisuelos, whose lab Daylightlab produces top level fine art prints in a friendly atmosphere.

I'm interested in power shifts. 

Civilizations, cultures, nations just like individuals gain or lose power through the years, but unlike individuals, cultural or national power shifts happen very slowly, so most of the people miss what's going on. 

Quoting Wikipedia: "The final dissolution of the Western Roman Empire is widely recognized as occurring on on September 4, 476, when Romulus Augustus, the last Emperor of the Western Roman Empire, was deposed by Odoacer, a Germanic chieftain." 

We like dates, so we can locate important facts in History, but in fact it took about 400 years to the Roman Empire to disintegrate. I suppose the 16 generations that lived during this time didn't think often things like "oh, our world is disappearing!". I suppose they lived their lives day by day, and evaluated their surrounding world according to their own situation. 

I turned 30 three days after 9/11, and yes that was a shift. My own personal shift from childhood-youth to youth-adulthood coincided with the Western World shift from "we're the best, fuck the rest" to "what the fuck is going on?".

Islam became first page world news instantly, while the Chinese economic boom took a little more to be totally clear in everybody's mind. 

If the future was going to be chinese, I had to know more about China, so I traveled there a few times shooting progress, growth and factories, and I eventually did a photo book called China Western, in which I studied China's most likely Achille's heel: Xinjiang. China's thirst for oil and the agressive colony-like presence in a remote and muslim Central Asian province.

Then the financial crisis came, and my place, Southern Europe became the new news. Europe looked like disintegrating and the southern countries, the Pigs, as the Financial Times and The Economist used to say, were to blame. The countries where the very concept of Europe was first shaped, were now Europe's Achille's heels. So I did a book called The Pigs putting together a bunch of stereotypes and again, trying to understand when and how the power shift happened.

This book is doing very well. It is appreciated by many journalists and critics in many countries. A few weeks ago The Pigs was awarded the Kassel Festival Photobook Award, and it is shortlisted for the Aperture/Paris Photo Photobook Award.

Because of this relative success, people are asking me often if I already know what will be my next project. And I don't know what to answer, because it takes a lot of time before I even know I am working on a project. What I do is to follow my intuition, and try not to get very far from the one thing I am really interested in: the power shifts.

The US cannot believe they are loosing their predominancy. Russia was, is and will be a mess for a long time, I think. India and Brazil are doing well, but they still have a lot of people living in tin houses. China is conquering the world through extreme capitalism and a brutal understanding of politics.  Europe seems to be heading towards the dismantlement of its most valuable asset, which is the welfare state that has brought peace and a relative social balance for decades. A lot of experts say Europe must work harder, longer and for less, if it wants to compete with China and the other emerging powers.

Well, that looks like a nightmare to me.

I think I am becoming some kind of activist fighting for a more pleasant life. I would rather switch a few lights off, use my bike more often, and plant tomatoes in my garden. I hope Europe changes direction and starts looking againg onto the old Enlightment values: solidarity, culture, love for quality and a very noble disregard for the pure materialistic life.



So they say Spain is finally leaving the recession and crisis behind. It’s not just the view of a forcedly optimistic government. The markets, the IMF and the EU are saying so. Emilio Botín, the Santander Bank president has litteraly said that “there’s money coming to Spain from everywhere”.

Apparently this is happening, among other reasons, because Spain has finally managed to enter the global market with its mid-sized companies. It’s not just Zara; it’s anybody and their mothers selling spanish goods and services all around the world.

Well, I have to say that the spanish visual arts community can certainly be proud of being part of those global players exporting talent, knowledge and services.

It is well known that Spain has been and is one of the top destinations for movie filming. Great and diverse locations, excellent weather, qualified crews, state of the art studios, and reasonable prices have attracted Hollywood directors for decades. If we could only have a less fragmented legislation, we could improve this industry really fast.

But there’s another less known and certainly smaller -in terms of revenues- industry that is blooming in Spain and heading to the rest of the world: photography. Given our population, the almost total lack of insitutional backing to photography in all its modalities, it seems like a miracle the number of spanish photographers, and people related with photography that is doing astonishingly well in the big arenas. Keep in mind PhotoEspaña or the younger Getxophoto, both truly international photo meetings. Think of Samuel Aranda winner of 2011 World Press Photo of the Year, Emilio Morenatti a prominent AP photographer, Pep Bonet, cofounder of NOOR, Manu Brabo, winner of Pulitzer in 2012. Think of Fernado Moleres, several World Press Photo awards, and Tim Hetherington Grant winner, Lurdes Basolí, an Inge Morath Award winner. Think of Sebastian Liste, winner of  counless awards. Think of Cristina García Rodero, the first spanish photographer joining Magnum. Alfredo Cáliz, one of the 15 big names of agency Panos, Álvaro Ybarra, one of the top ones a Reportage by Getty, and Walter Astrada the argentinian-born photojournalist star. Think of... you name them. Really many photojournalists kicking strong around.

There’s Alberto García Alix, Chema Madoz, and there’s also Cristina de Middel, the extraordinary creator of the “Afronauts”, winner of an Infinity Award, and the most visible head of a rich generation of new conceptual-documentary photographers. Then there’s Ricardo Cases, whose “Paloma al Aire” became the 2011 phenomenon. Txema Salvans, Xavier Ribas and the world figure Joan Fontcuberta, winner of the Hasselblad Award, from the catalan side. Julián Barón with C.E.N.S.U.R.A., included in every list of the most relevant photobooks of the beginning of this century. Cases and Barón, being part of Blank Paper collective, whose school has a truly international soul. In different terms, but also very popular among foreign students, stands EFTI. Also Lens is attracting big names to Madrid. Before that there was Al-Liquindoi with Jessica Murray and Gozalo Hohr bringing many Magnum and VII photographers and worldwide students to Cadiz and Bacerlona. Nophoto agency is producing great work, and Juan Valbuena’s publishing house, Phree, is taking off this year, with “The Pigs”, coedited with renouned spanish-mexican publishing house RM Verlag, and shortlisted at the Aperture Paris Photo Photobook of the year Awards. Just like Dalpine, the amazing online bookshop that has perfected the business of self-published online selling, and has become the to-beat standard in its category. They have also launched their own publishing seal, with another shortlisted Aperture Paris Photo First Photobook of the year, Oscar Monzón “Karma”

And that’s not all. There’s also José Bautista the winner of a World Press photo Multimedia award 2013, whose company Kansei Sounds is providing music and sound design to some of the top photographers around, including Karl de Keizer and Stanley Green. We have Gráficas Palermo, one of the top 10 photobook printers in the world. The quality of their work is second to none, inlcuding the big ones you all know. And please, let me mention Siete de un Golpe, the super high quality publisher that attracted first Donna Ferrato and then many other artists willing to produce high quality photobooks.

Am I forgetting someone? No. I am forgetting many.

I just wanted to make a brief reminder for both spanish and abroad readers of what is going on here, in this Pig country in which creativity has always been one of our most prominent industries and seems to grow stronger when the tough times hit harder.

In August 2001 I quitted my job as an Art Director and became a would-be photographer.

A month later the World Trade Center was attacked and the World changed forever. Nothing of what I had in mind happened as I imagined it would.

In 2002 I photographed an environmental disaster in Northern Spain. Just 14 hours of black and white classic reportage shooting were enough to get me a World Press Photo Award that was very beneficious for my carrer. 

In 2006 I flew to one of the most isolated and depressive corners of the world, Xinjinag -the muslim province of China- and shot there for 3 consecutive Decembers. As a result, I made a book titled China Western. It is a good book, with a great story, but it went almost unnoticed.

Thanks to that book I was hired to shoot and coordinate a team of photographers that would do a documentary book for a large telecom company showing their social activity schooling poor working children in Latin America.

The book and multimedia were succesfully achieved, so a few months later I was hired to coordinate another large project whose goal is to show the differences in the lifes and treatment among people who suffer Multiple Sclerosis in Europe. Again, a team shooting photos and video in 12 countries. Again, a heavy subject.

I was also in the refugee camp that popped up in the tunisian-libyan border whe the libyan civil war started. I edited this multimedia. It was kind of controversial for how I had approached this hard issue.

The financial crisis exploded, and I started shooting what would eventually become The Pigs, a The Economist-like magazine featuring stereotypes brought up by the term PIGS, coined by the financial press to adress Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain. The Pigs is now shortlisted for the Aperture Foundation - Paris Photo Photobook of the Year Award, and  Kassel Photobook Awards. The Pigs has taken me to some of the poorest and corrupted corners of Southern Europe. Another depressive subject to add to my long list.

So I can say I have been more than a decade concentrated on kind of tough stories. On the other hand I had advertising, that is supposed to be fun, but is in fact a heartless business. It’s not just me. Since 9/11 we all entered this tunnel-like decade that seems to go for its second 10 years round.

But then I had a son, and my life has been pumped with loads of positive vibes. The world doesn’t seem to get fixed whatsoever, but I believe that individuals do influence people surrounding them, so maybe it is time to think a little lighter and try to influence the world through something different than tragedy.



Next September 26th at 19:30 I will be presenting The Pigs at Ivory Press in Madrid.

Juan Valbuena (Phree), one of my 2 publishers -other that Ramón Reverté (RM)- and myself will explain why I did this book, and why I did it the way I did.

For all you who like to know what's in the backstage and other super secrets, join us. We'll have a chat and a drink.



The way the world sees North Korea is extremely biased by the severe restrictions imposed by the regime to the few journalists who are allowd to work there, and how they present themselves on camera. Kim Jong-Un, like his father and grandfather did, is photographed in different circumstances, almost always following the same pattern: he is doing, looking at or presiding things or events, while anyone else is an extra, and seem to merely write notes in some sinister little notebooks, fake interest and clap their hands. Everything happens around the leader, who seems to enjoy as a child this permanent surprise party that his generals are always offering him. They are colorful photos perfectly framed, almost pictorial. 

The most shadowy and mysterious regime of the planet displays photos without contrasts, without loss of focus, nor even slightly intelligible areas. It's all about pastelcolors, never a dramatic backlighting. Everyone has a good time in North Korea. Nobody is missing anything and the leader is taking care of everything. A regime that believes in the most childish way, that playing happiness is enough to be happy. A regime born of an unnatural breach, based on the denial of its Southern counterpart. A regime that need to fake his own success to justify a national split, that no one but they themselves have ever understood.


September 11th was a special date way before the World Trade Center attack. In that day, back in 1973 General Augusto Pinochet gave a military coup in Chile. The elected president, Salvador Allende fought until his death to defend the legimiate government. It is widely accepted that this is the last picture taken of Mr. Allende alive.

The famous photo of Salvador Allende coming out of La Casa de la Moneda with a rifle in his hand, a twisted helmet and dressing with clothes like he was going to the library, is now part of Mankind's Visual Heritage. That man with a boring teacher's face, who would not survive the day the photo was taken, together with those accompanying him -except maybe the policeman at the back- has been and still is an inspiring image for two or three generations already. A simple analysis of the image shows the urgency of the moment, the improvisation. Three people looking towards the sky, perhaps due to the presence of Pinochet snipers and planes around the building. The four on the foreground are wearing civilian clothes. Moreover, they are wearing suits. It doesn't seem like they were ready to die when they woke up that morning. This image makes me think of that moment when someone is aware that everything is lost and he decides that this will be his last day, instead of trying to negotiate a way out.

Perhaps Pinochet's political stability has left the foundations of the current Chilean booming economy, but the image of Allende willing to die fighting, has left Chile a legendary heritage that balances the terrifying image of ruthless Pinochet. An image whose legacy can not be bought with a good trade balance. Some things can only be bought with a man's life.


Prometheus was punished by being chained to a rock and his liver to be eaten by an eagle. But Prometheus was inmortal, so every night a new liver would grow in his body and the coming day the eagle would eat it again. This is how angry Zeus was when he found out that Prometheus had stolen him the fire to give it to men. Because the control of fire is really the starting point of  man as a rational creature, who begins to equate the Gods. The intellectual leap of being able to warm up, seeing at night, cooking, being protected from wild creatures, and all the technological achivements up to the Google Glasses is so wide that it has remained arguably unmatched.

So the fire is Man’s best friend. We could say it’s his creator. But like the Tree of Good and Evil, fire contains also the worst enemy of Man. And maybe that’s why we look at it mesmerized by its seductive beauty.



Every summer we stir to see that criminal arson is still far too cheap. We stir trying to understand what sick mind is able to cause so much destruction and so useless. Lights within us the flame of anger when we look stunned and helpless the annual summer fires photos. Those photos you want to keep looking at; those photos delivered by media as if they were candy for us to experience the sweet taste of plastic beauty, the adrenaline of destructive energy released, while, at the same time we feel infinite empathy towards those whose house is gone and have to start over their lives in the midst of a desert of ashes.

We're too civilized. We dare not punish the arsonists that an eagle will eat the liver. Perhaps after all we are all potential arsonists who simply have been educated to repress our desires, just as we repress the urge to jump into the void when we looked at it.



Aquella mañana me levanté recordando el sueño que me había mantenido tan agitado durante la noche: "caminaba al borde de un acantilado al amanecer. No tenía prisa; mis pies hacían crujir los guijarros que recubrían el camino que bordeaba el precipicio. En la lejanía vi cómo, sobre el mar, coincidiendo con la línea del horizonte, tres embaraciones de vela dejaban su estela al acercarse a la costa. De pronto mi visión de aquella escena se fragmentó en decenas de imágenes hexagonales, idénticas entre sí. Mis pies ya no hacían ruido. De hecho, ya no tenía pies. Me deslizaba por el aire emitiendo un suave zumbido mientras las naves se hacían más y más grandes, hasta ser de dimensiones descomunales. Pude recorrer con total soltura los mástiles, la cubierta y finalmente me acerqué para tocar el brazo de uno de sus ocupantes. Hice lo que tenía que hacer. Oí un grito ensordecedor y poco después, tras una enloquecida caza, un objeto que no pude distinguir me golpeó. Mi muerte se perdió en el universo y nadie más pensó en mí."

O dicho de otra manera: "Iba yo andando por el borde de un acantilado. Vi unos barcos en el mar. De pronto me convertí en abeja. Me acerqué a los barcos, le piqué a uno de los marineros y ellos me persiguieron y me mataron. Y luego no sé qué pasó. Se acabó el sueño".

A veces mis sueños son superproducciones de Hollywood, y a veces son sobrios dramas franceses. A veces tienen colores ultrarsaturados y con espectaculares movimientos de cámara, y a veces parecen películas de arte y ensayo búlgaras, donde todo tiene un aspecto vintage y mi visión es la de un espactador inmóvil. A veces estoy en mi sueño como un personaje más, y otras veces vivo en mi sueño como en cámara subjetiva.

Siempre que veo en una película una escena que corresponde a un sueño, me pregunto si los sueños de las personas varían en función de sus conocimientos de fotografía. Es decir, si alguien conoce el uso narrativo y semántico de las distintas ópticas, encuadres y recursos de montaje, ¿tiene sueños visualmente más ricos que alguien que no tiene ningún conocimiento de fotografía? ¿Influye nuestra experiencia de la creación visual en el aspecto que tienen nuestros sueños? ¿Sueña igual un fotógrafo de guerra que uno de moda, o uno de bodegones? ¿Cómo sueña una persona que sólo ve futbol y teletienda?

En el cine, la calidad de los sueños está directamente relacionada con la calidad del director, con los medios de la productora y la pericia del director de fotografía. De la misma manera que la cantidad y calidad de lo que leemos influye directamente en nuestra capacidad de comunicarnos verbalmente y por escrito, entiendo que lo mismo ocurre con las imágenes. 

Este año el festival Getxophoto, que arranca el 29 de Agosto, tiene como palabra clave precisamente "Sueños". Haciendo un repaso por los autores que participan y qué propuestas presentan, se ve cómo sí que son distintos los sueños de cada persona; en su contenido y en su forma. Y con eso, queda demostrado, una vez más, que la fotografía enriquece casi todos los aspectos de nuestra vida. Incluso los inconscientes.

El que tenga tiempo, que se pase por Getxo y que disfrute. El que no, por lo menos que visite la web, que a lo mejor encuentra un hueco y se acerca.

Queda inaugurada la temporada Asuntos Fotográficos 2013/2014.



About this blog

In 2008 I started to write a weekly post about people and issues related to photography, with a wide range of subjects.

Archived Blog 2008-2013

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