The XV Córdoba International Biennal of Photography which has just finished has probably been the most important photographic event held in the world in 2017, and all records of attendance have been beaten since this cultural event, made up by a number of top-notch exhibitions, lectures, roundtable debates and workshops began its path in 1985.
There has been a total of 41,000 visitors (though the real figure was around 65,000 if you include the many thousand more people who watched the excellent exhibition Frontiers by Rafael Alcaide, whose black and white images were displayed at the Gran Capitán Avenue).
Something truly unusual and exceedingly praiseworthy, because Córdoba is a relatively small city with 325,000 inhabitants, unlike the large megalopolises of Europe, United States, Japan and China who are often venue of photographic milestones of this significance, as well as featuring populations of millions of inhabitants and many more resources of all kind.
Anyway, nothing else could be expected, since the Córdoba Town Council committment to photography has been unflinching for many years , so contents offered in this XV Córdoba International Biennal of Photography have been certainly impressive, standing out:
- The Mexican Suitcase Exhibition, organized by the International Center of Photography of New York and the the worldwide most important photographic exhibition in XXI Century hitherto, made up by 4,500 black and white original negatives of pictures made by Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David Seymour " Chim " during the Spanish Civil War, of which the XV Córdoba International Biennal of Photography has offered a painstakingly chosen assortment of images whose jewel of the crown has been the two giant 3 x 2 meter mural size contact sheets of photographs made by Gerda Taro in La Granjuela in 1937, made by the ICP of New York in collaboration with Picto Laboratory in Paris.
- The exhibition " Nicaragua" by Magnum Photographer Susan Meiselas, one of the most important photojournalistic reportages in the history of photography, which meant a turning point and the spreading of colour from early eighties as a prevailing photographuic means in the foremost illustrated publications, greatly building up the tenets established by Ernst Haas, William Egglestone, Joel Meyerowiz, Larry Burrows, Harry Gruyaert, Alex Webb and others, in addition to be one of the most glorious moments of the mythical 24 x 36 mm Kodachrome 64 colour film (albeit its ADN is really elite black and white), the best chemical photographic emulsion ever made, whose superb inimitable features and unique aesthetics of image could be appreciated on the spot by many thousand people who attended this exhibition at the Rafael Botí Art Center in Córdoba.
- The exhibition " Images of the World and Eptaphs of War ", with Michael Zapke´s collection of war pictures, one of the most important ones in the world.
- The exhibition "Graphic History of the Civil War in Córdoba", with a very comprehensive array of war photographs made in the Andalusian province during the Spanish Civil War and belonging to Manuel Fernández Delgado´s collection, the most relevant in the world in this scope.
This exhibition was another of the sensations of this unforgettable XV Córdoba International Biennal of Photography, with an exquisite presentation of the pictures in remarkable size, most of them made from original negatives or large format glass plates, delivering an amazing image quality which enraptured the audience gathering at the Principal Comic Theatre of Córdoba, venue of this extraordinary exhibition, which likewise showed for the first time as a world premiere a picture of the Spanish Civil War enlarged to 5 x 2.5 meters (made form the original 13 x 18 cm large format plate) covering the scenery of the aformentioned theatre and which in spite of the enormous augmenting factor, kept very well the image sharpness thanks to the exceedingly big surface of the original LF original glass plate and the acutance generated by the Agfa Rodinal developer used more than 80 years ago.
- The presence of nothing more than four world-class war photojournalists: Gervasio Sánchez, Emilio Morenatti, Samuel Aranda and Manu Bravo.
The lecture " Sarajevo 25 Years Later " by Gervasio Sánchez at the Vimcorsa Assembly Hall on April 3, 2017, moderated by Francisco González was memorable and had a massive attendance of public.
On its turn, the roundtable Photographers in War, held at the Vimcorsa Assembly Hall, moderated by Pablo Juliá and featuring Emilio Morenatti, Samuel Aranda and manu Bravo, was likewise full of attendees, being pretty interesting and intense, with the three photojournalists elaborating on the quandaries and risks currently inherent to the war photographer occupation, along with the working ethics and the economical constext related to the obtained images.
- The exhibition " Wa Habibi " by Carole Alfarah, with touching pictures on the War in Syria, turned on its own merits into one of the yardsticks of this XV Córdoba International Biennal of Photography 2017, and The Arab House in Córdoba, location where it took place, was visited by a lot of thousand attendants, moved by the way in which war changes human condition.
- The exhibition " Frontiers " by Rafael Alcalde (corrsspondent of EFE Agency in Andalusia), made up by a painstakingly chosen assortment of heartrending black and white images of the greatest exile of XXI Century made by refugees fleeing from the wars in Syria, Irak and Afghanistan with whom the photographer lived throughout many months in their gruesome march from the Serbian-Hungarian frontier to Austria.
The most peculiar trait of this picture diplay is that it was placed in the open air, in the Gran Capitán Avenue of Córdoba, with the aim of making the people walking across the area react and stop to watch the photographs and think about what is seen in them, which was utterly achieved.
- The presence of Rafael Navarro, nowadays one of the internationally most acclaimed photographers in the field of black and white in synergy with inner worlds, the eloquence of shapes and the junction of feelings, boasting a huge experience and vast professional career which started in early seventies.
His first session of the A Photographer at Your Table section, with review of portfolios, held at AFOCO (Association of Photographers from Córdoba) / Taberna Moriles Pata Negra headquarters, became a full-fledged class of photographic alchemy for the established limited audience of ten people.
He also participated in the Roundtable Photographers and Academies (In Remembrance of Juan Vacas), moderated by José Coyano Moyano, Director of the Córdoba Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts.
- The presence of Pablo Juliá, one of the leading photographers of the Spanish transition, with an experience of more than forty years, was throughout many years Director of Photography of El País newspaper and Director of the Andalusian Center of Photography.
His second session of the A Photographer At Your Table section, celebrated at the AFOCO / Taberna Moriles Pata Negra, where he underscored knowing to look as a quality that every photographer must try to enhance, as well as observing others´ work to learn, brought about high levels of interest among the attendees.
- The presence of José María Díaz Maroto, a reference-class photographer in the sphere of independent commissariate of exhibitions, the fostering of photography as an art and its teaching, being one of the teachers of the PhotoEspaña Master and having published more than 150 articles in Diario El Mundo, ABC, El País, FV, Foto Profesional, Photo, Diorama, as well as being Founder and President of the entreFotos Association until 2005.
His third session of the A Photographer At Your Table Section and Review of Potfolios held on May 13, 2017 at the AFOCO / Taberna Moriles Pata Negra main office was highly enlightening and useful for the attendants as a counselling regarding where to channel their efforts as photographers according to their abilities and market circumstances.
- The presence of Pepe Castro, presently one of the best portrait photographers in the professional arena, Member of the Toledo Royal Academy of Arts and Historical Sciences, in addition to being one of the directors of the prestigious DNG Photo Magazine online publication, a great master of light and a recognized expert in the medium format Hasselblad H Digital System.
His teaching participation in the Photographers and Academies Roundtable ( In Remebrance of Juan Vacas) at the Vimcorsa Assembly Hall was another meaningful allurement of this XV Córdoba International Biennal of Photography, with very valuable opinions firmly rooted on his great experience not only as a top level photographer, but also on his pedagogical prowess strengthened in a slew of photographic masters and workshops he has imparted in United States, Europe and South America.
- The presence of Francisco Sánchez Moreno, photographer of the Diario Córdoba newspaper throughout almost thirty years, sporting a great experience in the creation of timely topics which he combines with his inspired side (he´s made until now more than a hundred exhibitions, having won 20 prizes) and he has been a Member of the Córdoba Academy of Sciences and Arts since 2012.
he was another of the teachers of the Photographers and Academies Roundtable (In Remembrance of Juan Vacas) at the Vimcorsa Assembly Hall, and gave wise advice on how to look for defining images, what can be the environments with most photographic punch, the distribution potential of images and the most suitable media for their publication, etc.
- The lecture " The Fury of Images " imparted by Joan Fontcuberta at the Vimcorsa Assembly Hall and in which the internationally renowned photographer from Barcelona, Hasselblad Prize in 2013, with an extensive professional career pathway as an image scholar, essayist and comissar of exhibitions, deeply analyzed the situation which is being lived at present with respect to pictures, the huge volume of photographs flooding society, the rush and urgency to be the first which inevitably brings about a decrease in both the quality level and the accuracy of the information, etc.
- The lecture " Photojournalists and Pictures of the Civil War in Córdoba ", imparted at the Vimcorsa Assembly Hall by the photographer Antonio Jesús González, a recognized photojournalist from Córdoba featuring almost thirty years of experience in the creation of images (he has been picture editor and responsible of the Archive of Diario Córdoba newspaper since 1986 — a year in which he also collaborated with Tor Eigeland in National Geographic magazine — , likewise being correspondent o EFE Agency in Córdoba between 1991 and 1994 and has published his pictures in almost the whole daily and weekely Spanish press — El País, Diario 16, El Mundo, ABC, Tiempo, La Vanguardia, Interviú, Diario de Córdoba and other media —, in addition to boasting a distinguished career as a photographic comissar, lecturer, moderator, speaker, teacher and member of photographic juries in a wide range of picture contests, with the added complement of a solid photographic background including courses with Eva Rubinstein and Koldo Chamorro in 1988).
It was a great success of audience, who utterly overcrowded the hall and paid great heed to both the lecturer´s words and the liberal amount of images of the Civil War in Córdoba, many of them unknown.
- The exhibition " Absences " by Manuel Jesús Pineda, held at the Ignacio Barceló Gallery (AFOCO), made up by portraits of anonymous characters who are discreetly captured during their trip on public transports, immersed in moments in which there´s a loss of contact with the outside, engrossed in their own thoughts and in their own inner world.
A very original picture show with irrepeteable images made from a very near distance, but not being explicit, but riveting and mysterious.
- The exhibition " Twelve hours at the Louvre " by Katy Gómez Catalina, which was held at the Góngora Arte Room (IES Luis de Góngora), with black and white images in which the photographer depicts the Louvre Museum in Paris and its surroundings, specially the sapces where light streams in, generating shadows and textures making up a very interesting microcosmos.
- The exhibition " Looks of a City " by Jesús Chacón, held at the San Felipe Neri Room, with superb black and white portraits where the photographer has wanted to capture the city of Marbella through their people, particularly persons linked to the culture, art and sport, highlighting their glances, according to the guidelines of the most classic tradition of studio photography, striving after drawing the fundamental personality traits of the men and women appearing in their images, fruit of the mastery of technique, with a wise use of lighting, the empathy with his subjects and a revelling in each instant, searching for a visual harmony epicentred in a specific creative language and expression way.
- The exhibition " Sputtering " by Jorge Isla, in the Cajacruz Room, Gran Capitán, a highly peculiar display of images based on the flickering of fluorescent lights and its combinations, with an effect that unlike human vision, a photographic camera configured with the suitable paramaters is able to perceive.
That´s to say, it is essentially a photograph of light, boasting a great conceptual purity, based on metaabstract and metascientific tenets.
This exceedingly exotic and interesting exhibition was also visited by scads of visitors, fascinated by a type of photography which seems painting when being watched for the first time.
- The exhibition " The Human and Divine " by Carlos Duarte, which took place at the Mateo Inurria School of Art, was prominent because of its deep humanistic and athropological nature, with portraits of unutterable eloquence made to people living in areas of the world where money, rush in everything and consumism are irrelevant, indifferent to the power of multinationals and buisness lobbies, as well as telling things with their facial expressions and looks.
Countenances in which the many visitors of this exhibitions could discern an intimate commnication between the photographer and the photographed persons, maybe endangered human beings, belonging to peoples and cultures away from the " modern " globalization, but facing their future with laudable dignity and strength.
Carlos Duarte (Golden Medal of the Spanish Confederation of Photography, winner of some prizes in the National Geographic Portrait Section, First Position in the Canson Infinity Edition and twice Runner-Up of Sony Awards and H.I.P.A) proved once more in his portraiture a crafted talent to gain his subjects´ trust and capture their innermost personality, connecting if feasible with their soul and throbbing stories, it all reflected in his excellent book Between my Heart and My Index Finger.
Evidence of it are to name only some examples:
Mali, Mopti, " Stories of a Dubadu " (made at full aperture of the lens), " Mara, of the Arbore tribe in Abyssinia ", " The Novice, Myanmar, Bagán " (an outstanding portrait in black and white and high key) and many others.
- The lecture " 360º Photography : The New Format Within Everyone´s Reach " by Cristian Domínguez Rein-Loring, held at the Vimcorsa Hall was hugely interesting and dealt with the current genesis of a technological context linked to the image in which 360º photography and video are starting to be commonly accepted at the same level as text, image and traditional video, after some decades of presence.
Cristian Domínguez Rein-Loring confirmed both his great knowledge and expertise on this kind of image capture and photographic tool and also regarding the sphere of virtual reality, being cofounder and director photographer of the firm newhorizonsvr having Ferrari, Disney, Bank of Santander, Antena 3, Bergé, Audi, Telefónica, El País and many others among its customers.
- The exhibition " Agonic Works and Other Pathologies. Memento Mori " by Ausín Sáinz, which had its venue at the Antonio Gala Foundation, brought about impact and pondering on the deep crisis of values suffered by human society in a number of significant sides, and to uphold it, he makes use of retro photomontages referring to vanity, pride, expiration and infinity, by means of intentional anacronisms, free recreations and a concern about the high degree of dependence on electronic devices nowadays experienced by human beings.
The aesthetics of his production, often baroque, fraught with restlessness and fantasy and grounded on images made with a digital camera and complex compositions through collages, catalyzed high doses of curiosity and meditation among the attendants, surprised by the amalgam of lights, colours and paint of these images.
- The exhibition " Refuge " by Alaa Chnana, which was held at the Gran Capitán Building in c/ Góngora, 5 of Córdoba, achieved utterly its goal of raise awareness in the observers of images captured throughout five years in different refugee camps and describing the War in Syria and its massive humanitarian crisis, focusing on the consequences it has on the childhood of boys and girls who are immersed in a massive exodus brought about by the conflict.
They are pictures which stirred the visitors´ cognizances, construing that reality with a harshness not exempt from beauty and in which there´s a transposition of sadness and joy, desperation and hope, in a temporary biotope inside no man´s land, preceded by a bewilderment and loss of identity regarding the past lives of these very young people.
The audience became highly impressed by his portraits of refugee children from the Syrian War, whose hardened glances and dishevelled hairs apparently unfold the heap of hardships experienced during it.
- The exhibition " 365 Days " by María María Acha-Kutscher had the Cardinal Salazar Galleries in Córdoba as venue and stuck to the concept of fight for woman emancipation and equality and the influence of feminine aspects on culture through images made with series of digital photographic collages created from pictures found in archives, internet, magazines, books and photographs made by the artist herself, having often organized her work in long term projects since 2011, year in which she began devoting full-time to her artistic oeuvre, being for her pivotal that her projects were exhibited in public spaces, being part of the flow of everyday life of the city inhabitants, with a popular aesthetics.
This picture display was made up by 365 small format photographic collages, handcrafted from old images and envisaged as a diary, with black and white pictures in which references to art are constant, frequently insertiong well-known sculptures and asserting the history that wasn´t but could have been.
- The lecture " XXI Century Travel, Photography and Smartphone " by Francisco Javier Fernández Bordonada (Chavi Nández), which took place at the Vimcorsa Room, brought about remarkable attention among the attendees, on delving into the versatility, immediacy, possibility of acces to conetnts and choice of getting pictures that has meant the arrival of Smartphones as a new tool for the capture of images, along with its interconnection with nanotechnology and increasingly powerful and sophisticated computers, resulting in a very wide range of applications in every scope.
Chavi Nández proved his mastery in this technological environment and his great expertise in image capture as a professional photographer, graphic designer and teacher, with a multidisciplinary gift in audiovisual media, having published pictures in such magazines and newspapers as National Geographic, The Guardian, Belle Europe. The Australian Travel Magazine, Bilan, Viagem, Geo Voyage and others.
- The lecture " Robert Capa in Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936. The Leica II (Model D) Captures the Fear of Death. Harangue at the Finca de Villa Alicia and Flight of the Village Refugees. Genesis of the Modern War Photojournalism " by José Manuel Serrano Esparza at the Vimcorsa Meeting Room, gathered an abundant number of attendees and elaborated on the two extraordinary reportages made by Robert Capa in Cerro Muriano (Córdoba) on September 5, 1936 and much more important than the Falling Soldier iconic picture, both from a photographic and human viewpoint:
a) The Harangue at the Finca de Villa Alicia.
b )The Flight of the Village Refugees because of the bombing by the Francoist aviation.
The modern and dynamic war photojournalism was born with these two reportages made by Capa in Cerro Muriano on September 5, 1936, which are among the ten most important ones in the History of Photography.
Many of these images featuring huge dramatism and captured from an exceedingly near distance, brought about very high doses of expectation, thrill and emotional intensity among the audience.
Therefore, this XV Córdoba International Biennal of Photography has been a first-rate international cultural event in which the Córdoba Town Council has gone beyond itself, once more with the previous strenuous work of organization fulfilled by David Luque (Deputy Mayor of Culture and Heritage of Córdoba Town Hall), Juan Carlos Limia (General Coordinator of the XV Biennal), Oscar Fernández (Commissar of the Official Section), José María Casas Pérez (General Coordinator), José F. Gálvez (Coordinator of the Complementary Activities) and others, in the same way as AFOCO (Association of Photographers from Córdoba, founded in 1981 by Juan Vacas, Alicia Reguera and José F. Gálvez), which has worked shoulder to shoulder with the municipal corporation since the birth of the Córdoba Biennal of Photography in 1985, boosted by this photographic entity which has turned by its own merits into an international level benchmark ( even publishing currently the online photographic magazine AFOCO News in PDF format, one of the best in the world in Spanish, including very good articles with a commendable quality of pictures and texts) and which has fought tooth and nail for thirty-five years to place Córdoba within the cream of the crop of European and world photographic scenery, to such an extent that Córdoba has been hitherto the only city of Spain being awarded the National Prize of Photography bestowed by the CEF (Spanish Confederation of Photography) in its four categories: 1992 (Best Association: AFOCO), 1993 (Best Institution: Córdoba City Council), 1998 (Best Publication: Diafragma Foto Magazine) and 2006 (Best Photographer: José F. Gálvez), as well as granting the famous Mezquita Prize of Photography, within the élite of the European photographic awards, without forgetting the great endeavour made by Ana Verdú, Director of the Córdoba Archive, and the photographer Antonio Jesús González to preserve the History of Córdoba Photography from mid XIX Century until now.
Text and Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza