The Spanish newspaper “El Pais” in partnership with PhotoEspaña has launched a series of books dedicated to most important contemporary Spanish photographers. The series includes 20 photographers, with names such Chema Madoz, Isabel Muñoz and Joan Fontcuberta among others.
The first book is devoted to Chema Madoz (1957), a minimalist and conceptual photographer who plays with subject of all kind to create strong visual metaphors. Although a little naive, I’m going to reproduce here almost entirely an early comment that I wrote for my TAOP learning blog.
The first thought that comes to my mind when I try to describe the photography of the Spanish photographer Chema Madoz (1957) is simplicity, and his ability to see evident relationships and connection between objects that he translates to the photo trying to preserve the minimum essence of the elements, avoiding to use complex arrangements that could distract the viewer from the message he wants to deliver.
We can easily describe him as a photographer of objects, but he adds an extra value to the objects. Through the combination of normally two objects, he constructs a sort of metamorphosis between them, that produces in the viewer an “eureka” reaction when he/she discovers the evidence of the visual connection that he/she sometimes had suspected. It’s difficult to explain, but it’s not the impossibility of the subjects depicted in the pictures of Chema Madoz what strikes us, but instead how much evident and simple the connection between them was and we weren’t able to see it.
But behind each one of his pictures there is a universe of ideas and concepts that he carefully uses to create to captivate the viewer. In fact, I think that the pictures of Madoz operate in three different planes:
Visual: Madoz composes his arrangements using only the essential elements in order to achieve a visual impact. Far beyond the ideas behind a picture, the visual construction of the scene is clean and precise, which give to the depicted subject an appealing character. We can also feel its volume. Madoz uses plain backgrounds, almost always white backgrounds, to avoid adding disturbing information around the subject.
All his pictures are in black and white, which helps to construct his message in a different layer than the plane of common reality.
Conceptual: Madoz’s photographs are not a simple representation of the reality. In fact, most of his pictures depicted inexistent subjects. Through combination and interpretation he connects two subjects: a cloud inside a cage. First, I imagine that the creative process for this picture could have been the result of the implicit connections: cage, bird, fly, sky, cloud. But that’s only in the visual plane, in the conceptual plane the picture adds a strong meaning to the scene, as we can easily associated to either subject, the cage and the cloud, the meanings of restriction and freedom respectively.
Poetic: this is the crucial element of Madoz’s photography, because thanks to the visual simplicity of his pictures, and to the power of the message delivered by its conceptual charge, each picture has a poetic potential that can be translate with different rhythms according to the aesthetic experience of the viewers. In fact, Madoz’s work has a counterpart in Spanish poetry, in the work of the Gregerias de Ramon Gomez de las Serna, who imagined in this series of small poetic/humorist sentences groups of subject or ideas connected in the same that Madoz does.
El par de huevos que nos tomamos parece que son gemelos, y no son ni primos terceros.
[The couple of eggs we eat look like identical twins, and they’re not even third cousins.]
El pavo real es un mito jubilado.
[The peacock is a retired myth.]
Las puertas se enfadan con el viento.
[Doors get angry with the wind.]
Ramón Gomez de la Serna – “Gregerias”
Humour: there is something funny in some pictures of Madoz that make us smile. Madoz’s pictures don’t form part of a cosmological vision of the world as Renger-Patzsch did. They are playful parts of the puzzle of objects we deal with in our everyday life, decontextualized them or better yet, re-contextualized them by means of an ironic vision, with requires a certain sense of humour.