He said of himself that he was a street photographer, but what distinguished him from the rest is that he was a tireless onlooker of the Mediterranean life of the luminous and hermetic Almería. Carlos Pérez Siquier has died, at the age of 90, the voyeur who first portrayed oppressed Spain in black and white and, later, the one who wanted to stop being so in full color. He went from black and white photojournalism in La Chanca, a miserable suburb of Almeria, to documenting the festival of tourism and its visual astracanada. His series The beach, started in the seventies, is an inexhaustible festival of irony. In photography history books, he will be portrayed as a pioneer of the photographic avant-garde in Spain, who formed the Almeriense Photographic Group (AFAL) and its magazine in which they planted the seed of nonconformity in an isolated country.
“In this matter of photography I do not feel like an artist. More than a creator I am a discoverer”. This is what Carlos Pérez Siquier used to say about himself, determined to be a witness to the present, without ceasing to be surprised. He did not escape the time that he had to live and looked at his historical moment, his social class and the place where he was born. And he saw Spain changing on the seashore and created an album of scorched and strident Spain in a bathing suit. Pérez Siquier was there to record the glories and shadows of consumerism that grew strong in the dictatorship and ended up exploding in democracy. That was his authenticity, the present, the only thing that did not vary in his work while his style jumped from one place to another, to continually be reborn in the street, the everyday and intimacy (in public).
“I can select the subject, modify the light, the distance, vary the angle, foresee the event, provoke it, but I would never dare to distort the essence of the image, because then I would leave photography to dedicate myself to painting, film or art. theater “, wrote Perez Siquier in the seventies in the first exhibition on his series of the beach. He was interested only in authentic situations so that the testimony of a way of life or of an era would prevail over any anecdote. “There is a certain irony and sharpness in the capture of its people, because it is a criticism of a welfare society that, in its contact with our sun, in its abandonment and carelessness, exposes its most vulnerable flank. I would say that it is a reportage of the anti-beach or anti-mass tourism. It is a small vendetta that I have sought myself against those barbarians who, with their rude presence, are destroying our beautiful landscape, “he recognized then.
Spain is different
He had dropped out of high school in the fourth year and began studying competitive examinations for a position at the Treasury until he was offered a placement at the Central Bank. From there he went to Banco de Santander in an office in Almería, where he remained until he decided to anticipate his retirement to fully dedicate himself to advertising and creative photography, at the age of 58. His goal was to be deputy director, since a position of greater responsibility would have required a safe transfer to and from Almería. “I always managed to establish a tacit agreement with my directors: I offered them my knowledge of the square without eroding their position and they in return gave me some free time in the afternoons and weekends. It was the time I needed to photograph The bank salary was essential for me, because in those days ‘artistic’ photography in Spain was not enough to live on, “recalls the photographer in the catalog that celebrates his 2003 National Photography Award.
In the sixties Carlos Pérez Siquier worked as a freelance photographer for the promotional campaigns of the Ministry of Information and Tourism, which focused on the sale of an image of sun and beach from which the country has not detached itself. It saturated the strident tones of the swimsuits and towels, contrasting them with the bodies toasting while letting the light do the rest. It was a long-running rehearsal and he didn’t show it until a decade after it was ripped off. He showed it in checkerboard-shaped compositions taking advantage of the medium format he used.
When he learned about Pérez-Siquier’s work, Martin Parr wrote that it was “one of the least valued but most original collections of postwar Spanish photography”. The Briton had never seen the work of the Almeria native (22 years older than Parr), despite being a clear precedent for his photos. Until a few days ago at the Blanca Berlin gallery (Madrid) you could see that relationship between the beaches of Cabo de Gata-Níjar and those of Poniente that Pérez Siquier portrayed from the seventies to the mid-nineties, and the beaches of Benidorm seen by Parr in the mid-nineties.
“Most photographers encrypt their aesthetic obsession in the passage of time, he has assimilated it with his main vital obsession: his passage through time”, has written Laura Terré, the greatest specialist in the history of the photographic group AFAL. “Her secret has been to draw attention to things without the need to intervene. To present an orphan world of author and yet create an atmosphere in which everything seems to be impregnated with a strong will to style”, adds the Doctor of Fine Arts for the University of Barcelona that has established a parallel of Pérez Siquier’s colorist vision with paintings by Henri Matisse, Tom Wesselmann, or David Hockney. The odalisques of Ingres also appear in Terré’s text for an exhibition at the Andalusian Center for Contemporary Art in 2001. Pérez Siquier never abandoned the documentary dimension of photography and his monumental archive is largely the result of the patient work of a unwavering will to keep looking to death.