Visiting a photography exhibition is like being absorbed by an album and walking through its pages. This Thursday opens the possibility of touring the Spain of the second half of the nineteenth century by the hand of Jean Laurent. Get into his photographer's car, whose replica receives the visitor, and travel where the train arrives or stay in his studio in the center of Madrid and see the most granada of the capital pass by that wanted to be photographed by the photographer of Queen Elizabeth II.
Some objects, out of the ordinary in a photographic exhibition: a button, some invoices, the car …, star in the beginning of The Spain of Laurent (1865-1886). A photographic journey through history and they portray this Frenchman in the biggest single monograph about him. Thus, the exhibition of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando walks along two parallel tracks, that of its two portrayed: Laurent and the country in which he developed his career. Without wanting to be a photographer of events, in the more than 200 images gathered, what transpired during the years in which the exhibition focuses is revealed.
But who is J. Laurent? (He signed only with the initial of his name, in Spain he will be known as Juan Laurent). A Frenchman born in Garchizy in 1816 who arrived in Spain in 1844 but not as a photographer. His interest in this profession begins a decade later and it will be in 1856 when he opens his studio in the Carrera de San Jerónimo 39 – in what today occupies the Congress of Deputies. Also Pablo Jiménez Díaz, one of the curators of the show, has done to present him in the first room, which makes clear the interests and personality of Laurent: he was a pioneer.
He was an innovator because in addition to the aesthetic vision of a photographer he had entrepreneurial ideas. Jiménez assures that a very important base of the sample is the work of Maite Díaz Francés, J. Laurent. A photographer between business and art. Opened store in Paris, was the first in managing one in the Prado Museum and he had commissioned photographers to whom he commissioned reports. Laurent was not Laurent, there were many Laurent; hence the signature of his images: Laurent y Cía. He selected, edited and also, of course, executed, but had assistants who followed standard guidelines, worked with the same formats. Some of them were Joseph Vasserot, Jules Ainaud and Alfonso Roswag, who was his son-in-law and his right hand, he kept all his legacy when Laurent died in 1886. The first did not last long wanted to overcome the master and failed. Nothing that did not happen in the workshops of creators dedicated to other arts; We will never know what would have happened to El Greco or Rubens without their workshop.
He did not stop making the portraits of typical studios of the time, with his chairs, pedestals and fabrics, the fashionable prop at that time-he even had a structure that held the neck of the models so that they would not get tired because of the instantaneous It was the time it took to take a snapshot. The one who exposes himself of General Espartero glaring the camera leaves a clear idea of the genius of the person portrayed. He made photographic reports of the advances of infrastructures in Spain (roads, bridges … of the construction of the railway network). He was interested in photographing landscapes, cities and monuments from a similar point of view: to document and value the material cultural heritage (cathedrals, squares and works of art in museums) and immaterial, such as the popular types: group of Castellonans with their typical costumes that arrived in Madrid on the occasion of the wedding of Alfonso XII or the cigarrera of Seville – that another of the curators of the exhibition, Carlos Teixidor, has discovered that neither cigarrera nor of Seville, as Laurent called it . It was a woman portrayed in the Hospital of Santa Cruz (Toledo).
The advances in photography were very fast, the techniques were constantly changing. Laurent no longer did daguerreotypes, like what could be considered his predecessor, Charles Clifford, he used the wet collodion technique that needed much less exposure time but that had to be revealed at the time, that is why he moved with his car throughout the Peninsula, it served as a development site and to transport the glass plates that they served as negatives and of which the Institute of the Cultural Patrimony of Spain (IPCE) conserves about 9,000. If you look carefully and thanks to the sharpness of the collodion technique – "only surpassed by first-rate digital photography," says Jimenez, "you can see the car and some of its assistants (dressed in the uniform of the House Laurent from which a button is shown in the first case).
The departure of that walk through Spain in the second half of the nineteenth century, which can be visited until March 3, is difficult, the audiovisual of the last room that seems to give life to Laurent's photographs is hypnotic and makes the The spectator is absorbed by images from Santander, Bilbao, Alicante, Madrid or Segovia.