Viva Photo España!

Europe boasts more than a hundred photography festivals, but few match the scale and ambition of Photo España in Madrid. This year, the organisation behind it, La Fábrica, celebrates the festival’s 20th edition with a typically eclectic summer season of activities throughout the Spanish capital, encompassing the work of more than 500 artists across dozens of venues that range from the small to the iconic.

“The festival is a collective project with a wide variety of institutions, both public and private, supporting it,” says director Claude Bussac, who is hoping that the 2018 edition will “push forward both the formal and geographical boundaries of photography… We aim to celebrate our 20th anniversary questioning photographic meaning and inviting photographers from every continent.”

Injecting a sense of fun into proceedings, Dutch curator Hester Keijser and Spanish-born photographer Cristina de Middel have been given carte blanche to put together two of the festival’s main group shows, both addressing ideas of play. At CentroCentro, Keijser is organising her show around two ‘teams’, one Swiss, one Dutch, “incorporating videos, installation works, a conceptual piece, a site-specific assemblage, a spoken word performance, stop-motion videos, anamorphic prints and photo-based embroideries”, from artists including Lana Mesić, Jan van der Til, Ester Vonplon, Augustin Rebetez and Isabelle Wenzel.

Sea Circus (shark jaw photogram) © Jason Fulford

Meanwhile, at the Fernán Gómez Centro Cultural de la Villa, De Middel’s Grand World Final will feature the work of artists from six countries – Miguel Calderón, Ana Hell, Jason Fulford, Robert Zhao Renhui, Hicham Benohoud and Prue Stent & Honey Long – who, she says, will “demonstrate their skill in the art of not taking these laws of nature and conventions too seriously, showing how games are able to place all things visible where they belong – on the edge of the precipice”.

In an exhibition statement, she says: “There is a need for ludic transgression, ingenuity, and coquetry with freedom, in order to reach beyond the veneration and the norms that has set the pace for a poor development in photography since its creation, especially in comparison to other creative disciplines. With new generations and new schools, another species seems to have budded that transgresses the norms.” The Alicante-born photographer will also join forces with Martin Parr to co-curate Magnum Photographers Enter the Game at Espacio Fundación Telefónica.

Elsewhere, at the Fernán Gómez venue there’s a major retrospective for Cameroon-born Nigerian photographer Samuel Fosso, encompassing 40 years of work, right up to his recent acclaimed series of self-portraits, Black Pope, and an exhibition drawing on the Archive of Modern Conflict’s collections, referencing the 250th anniversary of the modern circus to explore the idea of spectacle.

The Reina Sofía museum is devoting a show to the Grupo Afal collective, which originated from Afal magazine and was active in the 1950s and 1960s, helping “to reshape postwar Spanish photography”. And Horacio Fernández, former artistic director of the festival, will present the work of Ricardo Cases, drawing on the series he’s completed since moving to Valencia, including the acclaimed The Reason of Oranges.

Other themes include the environment, with the carbon-neutral Smart: paths towards sustainability at the Real Jardín Botánico, presenting the work of eight photographers; and fashion, with a tribute to the greats of the Spanish fashion industry at Museo del Traje. The spectacular Fundación Canal, meanwhile, hosts a Cecil Beaton retrospective.

Exhibitions run across Madrid from 06 June to 26 August, complemented by a wide-ranging programme of events, including talks, workshops, portfolio reviews and partnerships with cultural organisations from around the world.

Self portrait, Saint Tropez, France, 1979 © Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos
Bianco Zamperla and Lions, Anonymous author © Archive of Modern Conflict
Self-portrait as Mao Zedong, from the series Emperor of Africa, 2013 © Samuel Fosso, courtesy of Jean-Marc Patras, Paris
Encounter 1.8, 2017 © Isabelle Wenzel
Rachel Segal Hamilton

Rachel Segal Hamilton is a freelance writer and editor, specialising in photography and visual culture, for art magazines, book publishers, national press, awards, agencies and brands. Since 2018, she’s been contributing editor for the Royal Photographic Society Journal, is a regular writer for Aesthetica and author of Unseen London, published by Hoxton Mini Press.