Gonzalo Juanes. Descenso del Sella. Ribadesella, agosto, 1965


If Afal, the photographic group from Almería, was not in itself a typical artistic collective, given that its members did not unite any manifesto and each of them maintained their own sensitivity throughout their career – they chose to look at their environment with freedom and to show it in the light of his own perspective – it is possible that the most independent of all was Gonzalo Juanes. The rest (Joan Colom, Gabriel Cualladó, Paco Gómez, Ramón Masats, Oriol Maspons, Xavier Miserachs, Paco Ontañón, Leopoldo Pomés, Alberto Schommer, Pérez Siquier, Ricard Terré and Julio Ubiña) defended to a greater or lesser extent modernity, specificity of artistic media and the convenience of creation using the languages ​​of his time and leading the viewer to reflect on his own time, providing images that responded to a direct experience of life, but he photographed fundamentally for pleasure what he He was interested and letting his images sift through the cloudy skies of the north.

Last year it was a century since his birth in Gijón, this year it was a decade since his death, and we can now visit, in the Canal de Isabel II Room of the Community of Madrid, where many of those authors have passed, a curated exhibition by Chema Conesa that focuses on the fidelity – we will see how strict – that he maintained towards his own taste and motivations: industrial expert in a multinational (Masats was the first to be able to make a living from photography, but the rest of the aforementioned artists maintained their respective careers parallel in most cases), he practiced a work without ties and unrelated to any commercial purpose, open to his cultural interests and his love for the landscape, and defended the idea that images could be the result of the intellectual activity of his author at a time when, in a general way, they were conceived as work linked to a technical virtuosity without discourse, to a capture of the real without interpretation.

That choice of always personal paths, of a own voice In Conesa's words, it led him to leave aside – and return when he decided – the ubiquitous black and white of the fifties to opt for color, which allowed him to capture the Asturian mountains and their neighbors with a greater richness of nuances. , in fleeting moments of evident lyricism in many cases. On the ground floor of this room we can see a small tribute to Kodachrome: the press of the time began to publish color images, due to their greater tonal amplitude, as a fundamental means of telling current events in a period in which television was not yet available. was, by no means, widespread.

The fact that he did not seek public projection, and that the camera was not his profession, does not imply that Juanes considered himself an amateur photographer: already in his thirties, in one of the revealing letters to Pérez Siquier that can be read in this exhibition, he claimed to feel a comprehensive photographer: I feel like a photographer at all times. I have been doing photography for quite a few years. I almost never took to performing in salons; I have preferred – satisfying myself rather than others – to follow paths that I believe are more correct. Those paths he was referring to were far from grandiose purposes; he believed in the simplicity and modest appearance of the images.

This author arrived in Madrid from Asturias in 1952, due to his profession as an expert, and it was in the capital where he began in this art, largely together with Gabriel Cualladó, who provided him with books by international photographers and the Bauhaus that he acquired on his travels; He also met his wife here, Isabel Asensio, who appears in some of his best photographs. His departure from academic aestheticism soon brought him closer to the aforementioned Afal group, of which he was a part since its beginnings in 1956; To this group, without a clear political position but a promoter of a different, modern and open to international currents photography, we owe in large part the approach of this discipline in our country towards individual discourses, more or less critical, and in any case distant from the language of the picturesque. He wrote Juanes to Pérez Siquier that Subjectivism is fundamental in the management of the objective tool that is the photographic image. and? The difficult thing is to manage the objective image with personality, with talent, subjectively, and this is given to very few.

Gonzalo Juanes.  Gijón, August, 1966

In that search for subjectivity and an individual gaze, as we said, he left black and white aside when he could not obtain the lighting subtleties he was looking for; When he took it up again, he used it for a few years, already in the nineties and with the collaboration of a professional who helped him with the final copies. For the landscapes and people of his land, and for the images of the years before his death (a series he called Final point, and which has a lot to do with that constant attention to his personal concerns) returned to tonal diversity. He also explained his impressions of color to Siquier: Spending hours in the dark or washing buckets always seemed unpleasant to me. Then it became impossible for me… You have to read, chat with friends, listen to music, waste time… So I tried the color and saw that a good transparency projected at a large size is a new, attractive world, as much as a cardboard can be. between the hands, and that the complete Kodachrome process is uniform and faithful enough to be used as work material (…) It is necessary to educate the sense of color and light.

Precisely the luminosity of the north, so different from what the Andalusian photographer knew, had to do with these findings (a new professional position would return him to Gijón): Personally, this change has been possible for me – I think – thanks to the northern light. Here we live for much of the year immersed in a twilight world… Color has allowed me to delve deeper into it, enjoy this intimate, subtle, silent world more intensely, hone my sensitivity…

He had the feeling that his turn to color (as we see, the result of deep conviction) did not interest his colleagues at Afal, who understood that black and white, in line with Italian neorealism, was more appropriate to show the reality of the moment. nakedly. He persisted despite his feeling of isolation and then carried out very significant series of his region, of the common people and their rites: he used to pay attention to the lost glances, those of suspended thought, the spontaneous gestures… The moments that housed the unrepeatable without a manifest desire for transcendence or self-importance, but rather for coherence.

Gonzalo Juanes.  Pilgrimage, August, 1967
Gonzalo Juanes.  Pilgrimage.  Castiello de Bernueces.  Gijón, July, 1966

On the days when he returned to Madrid, sometimes to meet up with his colleagues, he looked for the showers and the most humid spaces (the Retiro, the Botanical Garden); For the sake of authenticity, and following his inclinations, he did not photograph the sun. The series that he dedicated to the terrace of a bar on Serrano Street constitutes a wonderful testimony to the well-off youth of the sixties and their ways of relating; He made it in just a couple of hours, addressing an unusual subject for documentary photography at that time.

Gonzalo Juanes.  Serrano Street.  Madrid, November, 1965
Gonzalo Juanes.  Serrano Street.  Madrid, November, 1965

The authenticity of these works is no less than that revealed by those carried out in Asturias, although as Pérez Siquier should have pointed out, the latter had a silver light: This is a matter of race, or sensitivity shaped by geographic and climatic factors, I suppose. For those of the Cantabrian Sea, it is the only one that truly gives us intimate pleasure… The sun makes us happy, but its monotony tires us.

Except for a series dedicated to the famous descent of the Sella, we will not find in this exhibition or in the entire production of Gonzalo Juanes narrative images, but flashes that speak of the complex and ephemeral lives of all, of a melancholic background underlined by that light always soft; or the expressiveness of urban places (some very modern use of red may remind us of the creations of William Eggleston). There is nothing compelling in his compositions, except for the strong personal identity they offer when viewed together; the later ones come to suggest death in its different manifestations, but the essential thing in them is still the look: we are referring to snapshots of Gijón marked by the industrial crisis, doubly gray, and those in which it gives an account of its own agony. , even through hospital still lifes. The intimacy of these works lacked appeal to third parties, but it did not matter as they literally provided intimate satisfaction.

Gonzalo Juanes.  Descent of the Sella.  Ribadesella, August, 1965
Gonzalo Juanes.  Isabel La Católica Park.  Gijón, November, 1967

“Gonzalo Juanes. “An uncertain light”


C/ Santa Engracia, 125


From May 28 to July 21, 2024

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