The exhibition ‘Arissa. The Shadow and the Photographer, 1922-1936’ aims to resurrect the figure of Antoni Arissa, one of the most outstanding Spanish representatives of avant-garde photography whose work has remained almost unknown for eight decades. This is the first retrospective exhibition devoted to the photographer. The project continues the strategy of recovering photographic archives instigated by the Telefónica Foundation, which started with the company’s own Photographic Archive and subsequently expanded with photographers such as Luis Ramón Marín, Josep Brangulí and Virxilio Vieitez.
The exhibition, curated by Valentín Vallhonrat and Rafael Levenfeld, comprises more than 160 black and white photographs which cover his professional career through three main stylistic blocks: pictorialism (1922 – 1928); his evolution towards the visual solutions of modernity through to the start of the New Vision in the Thirties (1930 – 1936), when Arissa immersed himself fully in the ranks of avant-garde photography.
Early days: the pictorialist phase
Antoni Arissa (Sant Andreu, 1900 – Barcelona, 1980) first started as a photographer in the early 1920s, combining his photographic work with the family printing business. His early days were enshrined in the pictorialist movement which emerged in 1890 through photographic associations and societies whose aim was to get photography recognised as an artistic discipline. They distanced themselves from documentary photography and embraced a variety of artistic movements, from Pre-Raphaelitism to Symbolism.
This was the period when Arissa produced his first works as a pictorialist photographer, portraying rural scenes, the iconography of the countryside in pre-prepared settings, literary descriptions of an Arcadia in which traditional values still endure, and images of children that echo the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm or Perrault.
Evolution towards the New Vision
In the early 1930s he advanced towards more modern photography, divested of the ornamentation and symbolist references of pictorialism and moving towards the approach of Central European photography, characterized by composition, form, line, perspective and a lighting that accentuated the features and intention of the photographic objects.
This was the path towards photographic conceptualization, rejecting the dogma of pictorialism with work that concentrated on small details. Both the family and his own home became the scenarios of his work: the house, the garden, the pathways, everyday objects and his own daughters were transformed into graphic elements. Little by little, his closest circle opened up outside the family nucleus and he started shooting street scenes and the port of Barcelona. From this time onwards, any fragment of reality would become an object of his photographic activities.
At the end of the Spanish Civil War, with the disappearance of media outlets disseminating modernism, Arissa’s cut back on his artistic activity and he gradually fell into obscurity. In the early 1990s, the exhibition Las vanguardias fotográficas en España (Avant-garde Photography in Spain), featured six of Arissa’s photographs, thus sparking off the process of resurrecting his name.
The exhibition has an audioguide with additional content which is available free of charge (it can also be downloaded for tablets and smartphones) in the lobby of the exhibition space and a catalogue featuring the photos on display and some documents and magazines from the period.