Ricard Terré

Galerie Vu

In an uncanny reversal of roles, photographer Ricard Terré has been stalking, Death since the mid-’50s. Not the imminent death that resides over battlefields, natural disasters, or police morgues, but the transcendent death that haunts the rituals of the living: Carnival, Holy Week processions, funerals. This unconventional pursuit had a precise beginning, in 1957 in Terré’s native Barcelona, where the twenty-nine-year-old business-school graduate turned painter and caricaturist had begun experimenting with photography: “It was during Holy Week,” he said. “Twenty-four shots in half an hour. All the work comes from there.” Indeed, the essence of Terré’s singular vision is to be found in these early photos, nearly a dozen of which were included among the selection of sixty past and present works that the Galerie Vu had the luxury of presenting in its nearly 5,000 square feet of converted industrial space. In their otherworldly alliance of the momentary and the monumental, the black-shrouded women who dominate these works—penitents, mourners, and mothers—take us on a metaphysical zigzag between medieval Catalonian frescoes, Picasso’s Guernica, and mental images of contemporary Iran.

For Terré, the key to the stark, quasi-iconic stylization of these images, so out-of-phase with Spanish photography of the ’50s in its academic (pictorialist) and independent (photojournalistic) variants alike, lies in his experience as a caricaturist. There is undoubtedly also something of William Klein’s no-frills technique, for Klein’s pathbreaking New York, published in Paris in 1956, had quickly made its way to the Barcelona avant-garde. But Klein’s influence stops there, and soon after, so did the first chapter of Terré’s photographic career. Moving to the Galician port city of Vigo in 1959, he returned to business in order to support his family and, notwithstanding a few exhibitions in the early ’60s, soon gave up photography altogether.

The second chapter was to begin some twenty years later, when, at the urging of his daughter, Terré went back to both his Leica and his pursuit of death. His eye has remained remarkably consistent, but (in contrast to the “late Mannerism” of many older artists who fall into the trap of reproducing their signature style) the resulting photos have constantly evolved—with time, with age, and with changes in both technology and Spanish society. In the later photos, for example, Terré comes closer to the people in his rituals and celebrations, and the people come closer to him: The camera is faster (he changed to a Nikon automatic in the early ’90s), and the society moves faster too. There is much less black—a reminder that the deathly pall of the Franco era was not simply an added metaphor but a daily reality, and one that helps to explain the truncated, belated, and otherwise deflected careers of Terré’s entire generation. But in place of religious rituals that now seem more anecdotal, Terré’s pursuit has shifted toward the “poetic death of little things,” as he writes in a poem that accompanies his most recent series, “Mort poètica de les coses petites,” 1999. These fifteen large-format, high-contrast black-and-white photographs are a memento mori for our time. The traditional compositions of flowers, fruits, and death’s heads have been replaced by the flotsam and jetsam of the urban landscape: a shoe, a book, a watch, a soccer ball, a condom, a cupcake wrapper, a syringe, or even a cross, each one discovered by chance and recorded in its thoroughly unnatural setting—so many metaphors, not simply for death and decomposition, but also for the abandonment and isolation of the living.

Miriam Rosen