Alberto García Alix

Alberto García Alix is a veteran photographer whom the art world had thought little about up until a few years ago. Now that our sense of the medium has expanded, his work, strongly tied to a specific time and place—Madrid in the ’80s—has succeeded in moving beyond this context and can be seen simply as one of the best oeuvres in contemporary Spanish photography. His work is consistently documentary in approach, although on occasion what’s documented is quite personal. García Alix’s work employs a straightforward vocabulary in capturing images from reality, even if he sometimes reconstructs scenes for the camera. His genres are essentially two: portraiture and still life—though on occasion the space depicted becomes more important than the objects it contains. García Alix’s images often refer back to the artist himself, sometimes in oblique ways. He becomes the narrator of histories in which he himself plays the protagonist.

“Tell Me Words of Love in Spanish” was the title of García Alix’s most recent exhibition, which focused on photographs produced in the past two years but also included a few images dating back more than a decade. Aside from the fact that he now works in color, the main difference between the earlier and more recent work is that his panorama has widened. This exhibition included not only portraits of individuals but also “portraits” of spaces that make up a fragmentary narrative taking place in Barcelona, Berlin, and Formentera, as well as photographs of shoes—a recurrent image throughout his career—shown as elliptical, fetishistic objects.

Several of the new photographs are self-portraits; others simply suggest the artist’s presence through the objects shown. A great number of works belong to a series of erotic tableaux, showing various women—and one man—posing in an openly sexual manner. Some of these images evince the photographer’s desire to situate his subjects in places that contradict their sensuality or contrast it with an evocation of realism—for example Rita (piernas abiertas) (Rita [legs open]), 2001, in which the model is pictured in a warehouse with a mattress pushed up against the wall behind her. In El Señor X (John Doe), 2001, the urgency of the photograph is clear: The model has pulled down his pants in the middle of a hallway, exposing his enormous member to the camera. These erotic photographs remind us that over the years García Alix has been associated with a lowlife aesthetic. And clearly something of this tendency remains: Porn actors, Hell’s Angels, and club bouncers all play important roles in the pictures. one pair of portraits, however, suffered from a sense of artificiality unusual in García Alix’s work. Una mujer para Elvis (A woman for Elvis), 2002, and Michelle, 2001, recall the tiresome clichés of Spanish photographic portraiture of the ’60s and ’70s: unnatural, overly dramatic facial expressions and gestures—like having the subject shake her hair—are a failed attempt to give the image a sense of primitive energy and formal plasticity. Such pictures represent an unfortunate step backward.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from Spanish by Michèle Faguet.