“There are a lot of institutions in this city, but probably photography hasn’t crystallised in Barcelona to have the importance that it deserves.” - an interview with PEPE FONT DE MORA, director of FOTO COLECTANIA FOUNDATION in Barcelona. When Pepe Font de Mora, director of the Foto Colectania Foundation, describes what he thinks a centre of photography should be, he refers to ideas like collaborating, preserving and adapting to the times. With fifteen years under its belt, the Foundation has positioned itself as one of the reference centres of photography in Barcelona and Spain.
When Pepe Font de Mora, director of the Foto Colectania Foundation, describes what he thinks a centre of photography should be, he refers to ideas like collaborating, preserving and adapting to the times. With fifteen years under its belt, the Foundation has positioned itself as one of the reference centres of photography in Barcelona and Spain. It’s now starting a new chapter redefining its programme and moving to a new space in Barcelona’s vibrant Born area in March 2017.
The combination of exhibitions of contemporary and classic photography, events, workshops, a collection of more than 3000 photographs, the entire archive of photographer Paco Gomez and a well-documented library makes it difficult to give a single definition of what Foto Colectania is. When asked, the director defines it as "a private foundation with the singularity of being a centre of photography that also has a collection". With a strong pedigree in collecting, the Foundation has become a platform and a mirror for the transformation of Spanish photography, as well as offering the public the opportunity to see renowned international authors. Examples of this are exhibitions held at Foto Colectania like Vivian Mayer. In her own hands, Pieter Hugo. Kin, the last show in the old space I Wanted to Be a Photographer and the first exhibition to be held at the new space, Photobook Phenomenon. This show, which is going to be co-curated by Martin Parr, Gerry Badger, Markus Schaden and Frederic Lezmi, Horacio Fernández, Ryuichi Kaneko, Erik Kessels, Irene de Mendoza and Moritz Neumüller, will present works by contemporary artists like Laia Abril, Julián Barón, Alejandro Cartagena, Jana Romanova, Vivianne Sassen, Thomas Sauvin and Katja Stuke & Oliver Sieber.
We interviewed Pepe Font de Mora to find out more about the changes the Foundation is undertaking. The conversation led us into broader topics such as Spanish and Catalan photography, the extended fever for photobooks and self-publishing, collecting photography and Barcelona as a city for photographers.
Artdependence Magazine: Let’s start from the beginning, how was Foto Colectania Foundation created? What was the main mission?
Pepe Font de Mora: It started with Mario Rotllant’s collection. He decided to create a collection of Spanish and Portuguese contemporary photography, from the fifties to modern day. The criterion of the collection was to integrate a broad selection of authors in order to draw different outlines of the life and work of the authors. These were the roots, but from the beginning the aim of this private collection was for it to be donated progressively to start the foundation’s project.
This photography centre has always had its roots in Barcelona, but with an international approach to its programme of activities and exhibitions. The collection, on the other hand, has a more local approach, focusing on Portuguese and Spanish photography.
Benedicte, 1987 by Alberto García Alix. Silver Gelatin, 105x105 cm. Collection Foto Colectania Foundation © Alberto García Alix / VEGAP
Poland, 1997? by Cristina García Rodero. Silver Gelatin, 32x47 cm. Collection Foto Colectania Foundation © Cristina García Rodero / Magnum Photos
AD: Do you think we can talk about a particular way of collecting in Spain and Catalonia?
PFDM: No, definitely not. It would even be unlikely to talk, for instance, about a particular type of photography from Spain or Portugal. Collecting has international aspects and human qualities. It’s a passion about a topic that drives you to own objects. This passion is absolutely universal and it starts with photography with which the collector empathises, so it would be too risky and loose to state that there is, for example, an English or American way of collecting. There are obviously certain historical characteristics in some countries with an extended collecting tradition, but we can’t talk of a common thread.
AD: We were talking previously about Colectania’s mission to foster international photography collections. Just to mention one of your remarkable exhibitions, a few years ago you hosted a show with works from the Martin Z. Margulies collection.
PFDM: In the first five or six years and under the artistic direction of Lola Garrido we dedicated practically the entirety of our programme to international collections. It was a way to encourage people to collect, to discover the different personalities these collections can have. They were both private and public collections, such as the Televisa Collection from Mexico and Serralves from Portugal.
We considered that as a centre of photography we had to question the very purpose of what we were doing in today’s world. We noticed that there were a lot of photography exhibitions in Spain, but there were only three or four photography centres and no new ones being created. So it was very interesting for us to initiate and follow this thread, doing shows about collecting photography and expanding the field.
Foto Colectania’s Collection. Image shown: Magda, 1986 by Humberto Rivas © Manel Armengol
Foto Colectania space in Julián Romea street © Manel Armengol
Installation view of Photobooks. Here and Now
AD: One of Colectanias’ aims is to promote Spanish photography. Who do you think of as the long forgotten author of Spanish photography history?
PFDM: Well, practically all of them! We have a lot of contact with international centres of photography. When we ask them what Spanish photographers they know often they don’t know many.
We need to be aware that every country always tries to promote their creators, but unfortunately there are not many well-known Spanish ones, besides three or four names like Alberto García-Alix or Cristina García Rodero, who is a member of Magnum. There are some authors like Joan Colom that are mainly known only by experts.
There is certainly a lot of work to do in this area and this is one of our aims for future projects.
AD: Staying on the theme of Spanish photography, it seems that there’s an increasing recognition of Spanish photographers outside the country, with even an issue of British Journal of Photography [issue #7826, July 2014] completely dedicated to them. Paradoxically, the economic crisis in Spain seems to have brought a new wave of talent, as well as an exploration of alternative mediums and platforms to show their works. Names that come to my mind are Cristina de Middel, Ricardo Casas, Julian Baroa and Laia Abril. Can we talk about a golden generation?
PFDM: I agree, something special has happened. It happens from time to time. As it happened before with a number of Spanish authors, like Joan Fontcuberta, now it is happening with a new generation. The uniqueness here is that this generation has been structured around the photobook.
What happened, then? We can talk of a series of circumstances: a crisis in photography – critical moments and lack of resources stimulate imagination; a very well informed generation, with qualifications from good Fine Arts universities and Photography schools; an ability and willingness to work as a team; and braveness to show their works outside Spain.
In addition to this, there has also been a series of particular circumstances and coincidences that sometimes happen in the art world…and in life. Very few times people admit that there are coincidences, like a small project from the University of Cadis [Andalusia, Spain] that produced a series of books, some of which attracted international attention, like the well-known book by Cristina de Middel [The Afronauts].
This network of authors that establish strong collaborations together with the support of certain publishing houses created an incredible resonance. There was clearly a lot of creativity thrown into these projects. Initially it could only exist in the format of a photobook. This was not just any format, it was the format required for those projects and the one that made these photographers create in a different way.
Ricardo Cases, Paloma al aire (Photovisión, Schaden, Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2011)
Óscar Monzón, Karma (RVB Books/ Dalpine 2013)
Cristina De Middel, Party (RM Verlag, 2013)
AD: In fact, a couple of years ago Colectania organised a show about photobooks [Photobooks. Here and Now]. Tell us more about the authors and projects included in this exhibition.
PFDM: We considered representing a number of photographers in this show through a selection of around thirty photobooks. We picked the ones who had more repercussion and transferred their works to the wall. The key focus of the exhibition was the selection, the right moment and the aim of representing what was going on in photography at that moment in time.
There was a huge variety of books, from self-published to well-known publishers like RM and projects like Ca l’Isidret. All together it was an excellent survey and a map of the currency of the moment represented through those thirty books.
An important requirement for this show was allowing the public to touch the photobooks. The untouchable books are the collection ones, like Women are Beautiful by Winogrand, which costs an arm and a leg. No one would dear to display it in an exhibition where the public can touch it. In this case though, the books were not in a vitrine and unreachable.
The eight projects that we suggested included Carlos Spottorno, Txema Salvans, Cristina de Middel, Aleix Plademunt, Simona Rota, Antonio M. Xoubanova and Oscar Monzón. We suggested to all of them that the book was on a plinth next to their project displayed on the wall. We made an enormous effort and we put a lot of imagination into it because there were endless possibilities in the way we could rethink the projects beyond their original book format. It was a very interesting and singular exercise with outcomes often very different from the original projects.
AD: How do you think this photobook fever will evolve? The fact that there are photobook exhibitions is already curious as it transfers an individual experience to a shared and collective one. On the other hand, photobook collecting has increased a lot in the last years.
PFDM: I think that is going to evolve as any other boom, settling down eventually. There has been a huge re-vindication of the photobook recently, but it had always been an absolutely unique way to narrate. The photobook has never been a catalogue, a translation of the original project. For Álvarez Bravo, Cartier-Bresson and many others it was just the natural place for photography to exist.
We’re glad to announce that the first exhibition in our new venue, Photobook Phenomenon, to open on March 2017, will be a photobooks project, but this time organised from an international approach. Also, we are going to present part of this project in parallel at a major art centre in Barcelona, the CCCB [Centre for Contemporary Culture of Barcelona] and it will have international curators.
AD: Let’s talk about this new chapter that Foto Colectania is about to start. You were telling me before about the different phases that Colectania has been through.
PFDM: We must keep an open mind when considering the transformation of our perception of “the image” over recent years. We have responded to these changes with a programme that reflects on the full complexity of this transformation. It’s a big change, but not a complete reset.
We are going to dedicate each year to a slogan, a theme. The first year, 2016, has been dedicated to a very open and controversial one: Well, what is photography? We are questioning topics that sometimes seem unquestionable, like what is authorship, who is a photographer nowadays or the history of photography. For instance, the first exhibition of the year was organised around Michel Frizot’s collection, which focuses on anonymous photography, so it was a way to reflect on authorship.
We have another two projects in parallel to the shows. One of them is Correspondence, a programme of written conversations between two international experts on photography. The first part of this project was about the history of photography (When) and it was a dialogue between Abigail Salomon- Godeau and the philosopher Æsa Sigurjónsdóttir. The second one was called Where, dealing with the places where photography lives, with Urs Stahel, a big name of international photography, and Hester Keijser. The third one was Who, questioning who can be called a photographer nowadays and the participants are Joan Fontcuberta and Geoffrey Batchen. The dialogues are very amusing and enjoyable. We see a very slow pace reflection on the topics because one writes his thoughts and the other one replies the following week, completing four letters each.
Another important arm of this new project is the learning programme. In Spain there are very few learning programmes focused on “the image” and it’s something that is only addressed occasionally. We’ve already started doing some workshops with the association A Bao A Qu and participating schools around the topics of the exhibitions.
Installation view of The Dwelling Life of Man. Photographs from the Martin Z. Margulies Collection, curated by Régis Durand
Installation view of The Dwelling Life of Man. Photographs from the Martin Z. Margulies Collection, curated by Régis Durand
AD: There is also a change of venue, something very significant after so many years in Julian Romea street, next to the famous neighbourhood of Gràcia.
PFDM: Every project needs to be reassessed when beginning a new stage. We have been thinking about this transformation for nearly two years and this led us to consider a change of venue. It’s important. It proves the maturity of a project that in January is going to be fifteen years old. It has been supported by many people, individuals, friends of the foundation, partners, patrons, sponsors and other private and public institutions with which we’ve always established collaborations.
We are moving to a bigger space in a very culturally active area and with a direct entrance from the street (something that the current space lacks), it is more visible. It is approximately 500m2 that will integrate a conservation camera, an exhibition space with high ceilings, a small projection room, a library with an important presence in the foundation and a small café-shop that will be used as a meeting point.
AD: What do you think Barcelona offers as a city for photography?
PFDM: Barcelona provides a huge attraction internationally as a city. It’s a city that historically has had a special interest in photography. For many years in the eighties the Primavera Fotogràfica [an early photography festival in Spain that was initiated in 1983] was a reference festival when some important photographers were just starting their careers and it’s had a lot of impact. There had also been several important galleries and international photography centres in the seventies.
Barcelona has had a certain tradition of photography but it’s a shame that it has been so irregular. There has been fantastic projects and there are still amazing galleries, such as La Virreina – Centre de la Imatge and MNAC [National Museum of Art of Catalonia], which has a photography collection. There are a lot of institutions in this city, but probably photography hasn’t crystallised in Barcelona to have the importance that it deserves. I think that there are wonderful artists in Spain, and in Catalonia, but it’s a shame that they haven’t had a stronger network for their work to be consolidated.
With all these ups and downs, which are fairly constant, there are a lot of people with huge motivation to do stuff and in the end they make projects happen. For instance now there is a new festival, DOCfield, there are photography galleries and a lot of enthusiasm from the audience, but very little budget to make things possible. Thus, I think that Barcelona could be a reference in the world of photography, but sometimes it’s better to admit that we are not really an international reference. It can be better to place ourselves in this reality and work from this position.
It’s important to mention that the photography community is not the most prepared to create a lobby. Everyone works very independently and maybe this is something that still holds us back. It’s actually related to what you were previously mentioning: the new generations are breaking with this, new authors are starting to collaborate and perhaps this is the formula for the future. At Colectania we’ve always thought that the best way forward is to collaborate, work together, support and get involved in the project to keep working.
We’ve been establishing numerous collaborations with publishing houses, other centres and international institutions recently and we’ve realised that this is the only way: don’t pretend that you’re the centre of the world; the centre of the world doesn’t exist anymore. The best way is to find travelling companions to work with and to do it in the most modest way possible.
The upcoming exhibition Photobook Phenomenon opens simultaneously at Foto Colectania Foundation and at the CCCB (Centre for Contemporary Culture of Barcelona) on 17 March 2017.
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