Next stop: Sheffield!

The 2014 conferences’ tour starts tomorrow and my first stop will be Sheffield!


Three days dedicated to the emotions during the Nineteenth Century in France. Great! You can see the program here

It’s going to be the first time I present material from the new project. That’s exciting, but also scary. I like talking in public, and the fact that I show a lot of (interesting-of-course) photographs relax me a lot. At least I know people will look at the images if they get bored with my stuff. And yes, academy is like children´s books: the more pictures there are, the more appealing it is. But, anyway doubts are always there, haunting us: Have I read enough? Are my arguments clear? Is anyone going to understand a f****ng word?? We could really do a conference on emotions about how emotional we get when we go to conferences. A meta-conference.






Magnum’s First- The [anonymous] face of time

This weekend I went to see the Magnum’s First exhibition at the Fundación Canal (Madrid). It was the closing day, so full of people and children, but I (mostly) didn’t care. I was eager to go. It’s not a surprise that Magnum is one of my favorite, and this exhibition was particularly appealing.

First, as it happened with The Mexican Suitcase, this exhibition comes from a lucky discovery. It turns out that the first exhibition organized by the photographic agency was lost and recently found in the archives of the Institute Français in Innsbruck (Austria). For us the historians, this is THE DREAM. It’s so rare to find new material, and from one of the biggest, featuring Capa or Cartier Bresson!!!!  

But, besides the fetish, this is one of the most interesting exhibitions I have seen because it is arranged the way it was in 1955. I am not sure the photographs are the original copies, but they are presented in such an unfashioned way that I do believe they are. This is a very important and considerable thing, because the size or the material in which a photo is printed also determines the public effect of the images. I always complain about enlarging old pictures that were intended to be seen in a pocket size, or when they are developed in modern fine papers. Of course, the result is incredible (and I’m thinking on the exhibition of Virgilio Vietez at the Fundación Telefónica last year…) but those are not the photographs taken, used and handled by the photographers and their contemporaries. In this case, this at least was respected. Then, we, spectators of the 21st century, can have a clue of how was the experience of the viewers of the exhibition in 1955. This is awesome. 

It is precisely because we can see the real pictures, organised more or less the way in which they were, that we can grasp the intentions of the magnum’s first exhibition. A lot of things have been said about the Magnum agency and how they changed photojournalism and photography in general. But my impression after the tour was not that they were focusing on photography, but on people. I mean, of course there is a reflection on the uses of photography and the photographer, but I think these are related to the way they treat people. Except for the two or three pictures of Gandhi by Cartier Bresson, all the photographs show anonymous people. The photographer himself became (or wanted to became) anonymous, just another one of them.



Wener Bischof, Hungary, 1947

This is important, in my view, because there have always been anonymous people in photography, of course, but these anonymous do not stand for nothing. They are not pictured because they represent the army, such in the case of the militian army pictured by Capa, or the nation, or… They are photographed just as people. This can be interpreted in terms of the humanitarianism, and saying that these people are photographed because all human beings have equal dignity, etc. But even if this interpretation applies, there is something else. The way in which these photographers pictured anonymous people involves a reflection of photography. The photographer’s intention to disappear completely from the photograph has been interpreted as the quest for objectivity, and it’s now widely recognized as a trap. But it can also be interpreted as a gesture to became the same as the photographed. It starts a relation from equal to equal between the photographer and the photographed. It therefore ends with the sovereign of photography: the photographer is not the master, but a just a piece. And what really counts is the photographic event mediated by that relationship. And this has a huge political potential.




Workshop “Representing and Historising les Gueules Cassées”

The University of Exeter hosts next Wednesday this workshop, the first of the project “1914FACES2014”, “an international project funded by the EU scheme INTERREG, for cross-border cooperation. We are a UK team (led by David Houston Jones at the University of Exeter) and a French team (led by Professor Bernard Devauchelle ,Institut Faire Faces, Amiens). FACES aims to analyse how the mutilated face of soldiers injured during the Great War significantly influenced medical practice, social and political history, the arts and philosophy. In particular, we consider how the radically new forms of surgery pioneered during WWI owe a debt to artistic practices and practitioners and, conversely, how the cultural legacy of les gueules cassées continues to shape our experience and perception of disfigurement.

I can’t wait !!!!

Why I love ballet photography

This is a question I often pose to myself. Why this fascination for portraits of ballerinas? One of my favorite procrastination activities is to search for nice photographs on Pinterest, Google images, etc, and I can spend hours looking at photographs of ballet performers, ballet slippers, tutus… and that relieves me a lot. Why?

Sometimes it is just because I like the aesthetics of the picture., like in this case

ballerina wet plate

I have no idea who was the photographer or the ballerina, neither when it was taken. It seems a contemporary wet plate (the colors and the light remind me of Sally Mann’s work, maybe less obscure than her photos), but I honestly don’t know.

I also love finding celebrities taking ballet classes. This picture of James Dean taken by Dennis Stock is one of my favorite ones.

USA. New York City. 1955. James DEAN attending a dance class with Katherine DUNHAM. Magnun Photos

USA. New York City. 1955. James DEAN attending a dance class with Katherine DUNHAM. Magnum Photos

Unlike the previous picture, this photograph does not stand out for its beauty. But I find adorable how she helps him to achieve the en dehors at the second position, and his completely concentrated face. In this picture, he is just another guy trying to get the (almost impossible) right position of feet, hips, back, arm and neck. Moreover, it was taken by Dennis Stock, one of the Magnum photographers and his friend. Stock is indeed the maker of his most famous portrait (besides the Rebel without a cause’s pictures) and other more interesting pictures taken in Fairmount, Indiana, where Dean grew up.

It is indeed interesting to look at the photographers who documented ballet during the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Besides Stock, another Magnum photographer, David Seymour, photographed the ballet sessions of Audrey Hepburn, who was preparing her role for the film Funny Face in 1956.


The series is lovely, but what interests me is the fact that David Seymour was Chim, the photojournalist that accompanied Robert Capa and Gerda Taro during the Spanish Civil War. And he is not the only war photographer interested on ballet and celebs. Cecil Beaton also documented the Second World War, photographed ballerinas and is the author of one the most iconic images of Audrey Hepburn. Alfred Eisenstaedt, famous for his picture of the Victory Day’s kiss, where a soldier spontaneously kisses a young girl when the end of the Second World War is announced, also pictured the rehearsal of Swan Lake at the Grand Opera de Paris and the American Ballet:

future ballerinas, The American Ballet, 1937

future ballerinas, The American Ballet, 1937

So, why do I love these photographs? I think because, basically, they are material and visual traces of the cultural history of the body. Not only the bodies of the ballerinas have changed over the time (they are skinnier and skinnier), but also the aesthetic and social approach to it. Nowadays it’s very rare to find well known photographers and photojournalists documenting a ballet rehearsal, while it was so common 60 years ago. My suggestion is that ballet is a privileged site to see these changes because it requires unnatural positions, hurtful and uncomfortable, that forces the body to go to its limits. And where are these limits established? These pictures shows the plasticity of the limits over the time; how they have changed and how they will change not only in terms of strength, flexibility or appearance. The important changes are the public performances and its cultural meanings. And ballet has a lot to say about that.

Falling in and out of love

Exhibition of Lartigue’s photos of Bibi, his wife, at The Photographers’ Gallery, a unique building at the heart of London exclusively dedicated to photography. I love his work, but the picture of Bibi at the toilet has just captivated me!!

Love her

Love her

Now I now where I’m going to spend the next Tuesday morning!

CNN Photos

Stories of love found and lost are everywhere.

But few romances have had their highs and lows documented by one of the world’s most acclaimed photographers, or had such glamorous settings.

A new exhibition in London documents the arc of Jacques Henri Lartigue’s 12-year marriage to the high-society bohemian Madeleine Messager, the subject of hundreds of his photographs and the mother of his only child.

Lartigue met Messager, whose parents were the composer Andre Messager and the Irish opera singer Hope Temple, while vacationing in the Alps in 1917. Messager set her sights on the French photographer and won him over. He proposed, giving up the carefree life of a bachelor to marry the woman he nicknamed Bibi.

“What am I? And what am I doing here?” Lartigue wrote in his diary. “I am a married man – on my honeymoon. I think it must be the funniest thing in…

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On Honeymoon Along the Western Front

Yesterday I received a copy of Speaking the Unspeakable, a collective volume edited by Catherine Collins and Jeanne Clark (Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2013), where I collaborate with the paper “On Honeymoon along the Western Front: Photography, Trauma and Familiar Memory during the First World War Aftermath”. I’m so happy !!!!!


My paper discuses an amateur album I found at the archives of the Historial de la Grande Guerre, in Péronne (La Somme, France). I fell in love since the very moment I saw its main page, reading “Notre voyage de noces” at the top of a photograph of a couple, married in September, 1919. It could be another honeymoon album, but it was clear it wasn’t. I soon realized its originality and value: the places they visited during the honeymoon were the same where the husband fought during the Great War. That was amazing! (or should I say creepy?)


Moreover, it was a treasure for a historian of photography. The album included three kinds of pictures: photographs taken during the war portraying the anonymous husband’s war experience, pictures taken during the trip, mostly showing Berthe (the wife), and postcards of the places they visited. Therefore, the album can be read at several levels. So exciting!!!

In this paper, I mainly focused on the pictures taken during the Honeymoon, because my aim was to analyse how photography could serve to cope with trauma by means of reenactment. Unlike the photographs of the war, which were not presumably taken by the husband himself (they are random memories, with different sizes and types, which means they were probably purchased), the pictures of the honeymoon were taken by the couple. They show Berthe or his husband in different scenarios, but the most interesting ones are the pictures that recreated the attack where the husband was injured at the face. Both Berthe and the husband posed in the main places: the bush that served him to hide himself, or the First Aid Station towards which the husband was going to after the attack. They are almost at the end of the album, so it seems that the whole trip was planned in order to recreate the event. By means of re-experiencing it, the traumatic event could be integrated into the family memory.

However, this is a gendered family memory. Berthe’s experiences during the war are completely omitted, and she is not able to have a complete experience of her husband’ experience. Even if she also poses where he suffered the injury, she poses wearing a dress and heels, and her bodily posture is the same as in the photos at the beach. She does not reenact. The husband is the only one that fully re-experience the war, wearing his military uniform and adopting the same bodily gestures as he had when he suffered the attack.

Berthe à l'entré du PC

Berthe à l’entré du PC

Bouquet d'arbres derrière lequel je me suis abrité

Bouquet d’arbres derrière lequel je me suis abrité

There are much more things to say about this album, for example the role of the landscapes. It’s an incredible object!

* The quality of the pictures is not the best, but that’s also the charm of old photographs…

Happy Birthday, Mr. Capa!



Hoy Robert Capa hubiera cumplido 100 años, y como cualquier excusa es buena para volver  a ver sus fotos, hoy se suceden los homenajes.  Por ejemplo, el del International Center of Photography, creado por su hermano Cornell en 1974 en New York,  en el que además de fotografías (muchos retratos y autorretratos geniales) incluyen una entrevista radiofónica para que podamos escuchar su  maravilloso acento mitad del este, mitad francés, en inglés.

Es muy difícil escribir sobre Capa porque se ha escrito muchísimo sobre él, sobre cómo definió las reglas del fotoperiodismo, sobre si la icónica fotografía del republicano cayendo es real o un posado… Personalmente, lo que más me gusta  es lo que él mismo escribió en su autobiografía Slightly Out of Focus (Ligeramente desenfocado), en la que cuenta su experiencia durante la II Guerra mundial. El título alude a las fotos más famosas que tomó en esa guerra, las del desembarco de Normandía, en las que el movimiento, el agua y los errores al revelarlas hicieron que quedaran bastante desenfocadas. Pero creo que también es una declaración de intenciones. Viniendo de un fotógrafo, “ligeramente desenfocado” no es sólo una descripción, sino una invocación para corregir ese desenfoque. Toda su fotografía puede entenderse como ese tratar de enfocar correctamente, de llegar a la imagen precisa, no sólo de contornos precisos, sino de situaciones precisas que expresen de manera concentrada aquello que estaba ocurriendo fuera de foco. Así que ese “slightly out of focus” es el reverso de su otra regla de oro: si tus fotos no son suficientemente buenas, es que no estás suficientemente cerca. Tan cerca que estés dentro.

Por eso no puedo más que conmoverme y sentir toda la simpatía del mundo cuando veo sus fotografías de la Guerra Civil.