On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the international photography and visual arts festival PHotoEspaña, the director Claude Bussac answers questions from our correspondent, Zoé Isle de Beauchaine.
Claude Bussac, what is your assessment of these twenty-five years of PHotoEspaña?
For a festival director, the balance sheet can be seen with the spectators, and we really do have a large public, which is very active since it is involved in all the activities that we offer alongside the festival. The interest has not diminished, quite the contrary. On the institutional side, the evolution is also evident. When PHotoEspaña was born twenty-five years ago, Madrid was not at all oriented towards photography. There was not a single gallery that showed photographers, and there were few museums. Today, whether it’s the Reina Sofia Museum or the MAPFRE Foundation, all of them give an important place to this medium.
Can we thank PHotoEspaña for this evolution?
PHotoEspaña has contributed to photography taking the place it should have taken anyway, and which it has gained internationally.
What is PHotoEspaña’s place internationally?
In the last few years I think it has managed to have an important place, especially for Latin American photography. We are trying to open more and more international windows, but an international that is not Western-centric. This approach is very important to us. Opening up to the international means being interested in many countries, not just North America and Japan. This year we have a beautiful exhibition that gives an overview of contemporary Lebanese photography.
What are the main focuses of this anniversary edition?
There are several major axes for this year. First of all, the place of women in the history of photography. For several years now, we have been very strict about the parity between men and women within the festival. More recently, for the last two or three years, we have also wanted to give more visibility to women who have marked the history of photography by honouring one or two photographers each year. I really think it’s important to do that and these are exhibitions that always interest the public a lot.
Each year we invite curators to develop a particular point. Last year it was pan-African photography. For the 25th edition, I wanted the heart of the festival to be made with great names in photography. So I asked two curators (Vicent Todolí and Sandra Guimarães) to work with the collection of the Fundació Per Amor a l’Art (Valencia) on documentary-style photography. It is an incredible collection, which you can discover through several exhibitions.
Finally, there is Spanish photography with several people who are part of what I call the PHotoEspaña generation, who were there at the beginning of the festival, like Alberto García-Alix for example and many others. They are celebrating this anniversary with us.
What are your personal favorites for this edition?
I have a soft spot, perhaps because I am part of the curatorial team, for the exhibition at the Palais Royal. This year is important for us because it is the first time that national heritage has been included in PHotoEspaña, with two emblematic spaces of the city: the Royal Palace and the Pantheon. The most exciting thing was to be able to access the Royal Collections, a remarkable collection of 19th century photographs, which were placed in dialogue with photographs by Sebastião Salgado. A dialogue that at first glance may seem surprising, but in my opinion it works very well, particularly because of the sublime side of Salgado’s relationship with nature, which is often found in the pioneers.
There are also the photographs of Kati Horna and Margaret Michaelis: they are strong moments of history, which touch us particularly… and then to see the courage of these women who were still on the front line with the anarchists.
What about the next 25 years of PHotoEspaña?
I believe that PHotoEspaña has a bright future ahead of it. It’s incredible how strong the interest in photography is. I think there is a lot to do. That’s what’s exciting, it’s a medium that has great potential and I love that it can attract so many different publics, that it allows artists to express themselves in so many ways. The most important thing in my opinion is that we continue to reclaim photography as an art form in order to educate the eye.
Zoé Isle de Beauchaine