For a long time the aesthetic consideration of photography has been limited to individual images that are able to work in a similar way to paintings or etchings, a blueprint developed by historians and museum curators alike to assemble a canon of ‘masterpieces’ for studios or exhibitions. Yet this model is not the only one, and many photographers cannot synthesise their work in a single image, devising it instead in a series. Both models give rise to two coherent histories of photography: one comprised of photos to hang on walls, with a limited number of copies and on sale at art galleries; the other in book form, possibly with a reissue, available in bookstores. By and large, photographers prefer the last option: “pictures on walls and photos in books” (Cartier-Bresson).
A photobook is a publication made up of photographs ordered as a set of images, with plots and complex meanings, and the medium used by some of the most pre-eminent photographers to produce their greatest work; a tried-and-tested model to present, communicate and read photos. Photobooks are becoming more widely recognised as the best medium for presenting series of photographs.
As far as Spain is concerned, the history of photobooks is determined by the avatars of its own national history, for instance the Civil War and the transition to democracy, the focus of some of the finest work produced. In addition to propaganda, changes to the image and social role of peasants and, above all, women, are also prominent issues that are explored. The relationship between literature and photography is another characteristic of Spanish photobooks, which also include works in closer proximity to the international history of the format, such as publications on urban matters.
The study of photobooks is leading to a reinterpretation of the history of photography in diverse countries, as well as in Spain. Along with well-known photographers (the likes of José Ortiz Echagüe, Alfonso, Francesc Català-Roca, Ramón Masats, Xavier Miserachs, Francisco Ontañón o Colita), the exhibition features a considerable number of practically unknown frontline artists who in their day actually published first-rate photography collections, as is the case with photographers like Antonio Cánovas, the collective work of Misiones Pedagógicas, José Compte, Enrique Palazuelo, Luis Acosta Moro and Salvador Costa.
Curated by Horacio Fernández, the exhibition Photobooks: Spain 1905-1977 is in collaboration with Acción Cultural Española (AC/E) to present part of the line of investigation and acquisition carried out by the Museo Reina Sofía concerning photo books. The exhibition is concluded with the publication of a catalogue raisonné, jointly published by the Museo Reina Sofía, AC/E and RM.