Rivas, Humberto

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Humberto Rivas

Buenos Aires, 1937

Barcelona, 2009


Humberto Rivas was an Argentine photographer, and his work is essential to understanding the world of photography in Spain from the 1970s onwards.

He began his studies in 1951, focusing on painting and drawing, and soon after became interested in photography. In 1954 he started working as an apprentice at an advertising agency, and a year later he was able to buy his first camera, a 35mm fixed lens Argus. In 1959 he started using a Rolleiflex 6×6 which allowed him to take on greater challenges. Right from his earliest photographs the influence of great photographers such as Diane Arbus and Richard Avedon was noticeable.

His first exhibition was not photography but painting and drawing, held at the Lirolay Gallery in 1958. A year later he was given his first opportunity to exhibit his photographic work at the Galatea Gallery. A few years later, in 1962, Juan Carlos Distéfano, who at that time was the director of the design department of the Torcuato Di Tella Institute in Buenos Aires, asked him to take charge of the photography division of the contemporary art center. Many of the great minds of Argentine culture passed through that venue, including Jorge Luis Borges, Roberto Aizenberg and Ruben Fontana. This was where Rivas started developing his own aesthetic, trying to shed light on the dark side of his sitters, and later starting to introduce aspects such as the poetry of silence and absence into his work.

It was around this time that he met photographer Anatole Saderman, whom he came to regard as a mentor and who proved to be hugely important in his future development as an artist.

From the beginning he was absolutely fascinated by cinema, especially Swedish director Ingmar Bergman and his cinematographer Sven Nykvist, due to the way he handled light.

In 1974, he made a trip to the north of Argentina, the result of which is the portfolio entitled “North”, featuring photographs of the people and landscapes of Jujuy, Tucumán and Salta. From then on, his career as a photographer would essentially expand upon these themes.

The coup d’état in Argentina in 1976 marked a before and after in the life of Humberto Rivas, since due to his opposition to the new regime he was forced to leave his native Argentina and move to Barcelona with his family in February of that same year, where América Sánchez would be a great support to him initially, having already lived there for some time.

His arrival had a very positive impact on the city’s cultural milieu, especially in terms of photography, since up until the 1990s the generally low regard for photography in Spain meant that photographers had been forced to work as art critics, curators, gallerists and researchers, in stark contrast to the European scene at that time.

In 1982, he was involved in the launch of the Photographic Spring of Barcelona, a pioneering event in Spain that started to position photography in a prominent place within the artistic avant-garde.

In Barcelona he continued to focus on his work as a portraitist, shooting personalities such as Joan Miró, Josep Tarradellas, Salvador Espriu and Antoni Tàpies. At the same time, and with increasing intensity, he began to explore the theme of landscape, especially urban ones, and up until the 1980s he evinced a profoundly poetic portrait of the passing of time and the treatment of light, which turned his landscapes into icons of contemporary art. He also explored other themes such as still lifes (withered flowers and isolated objects abandoned in time and space).

The treatment of some of his images is reminiscent of the work of great artists such as Rembrandt, Dürer and the still lifes of Francisco de Zurbarán.

In his later years, he immersed himself in the work of poet Fernando Pessoa, taking The Book of Disquiet as a central theme. He also showed a marked interest in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.

In 1999 he created a series on the Spanish Civil War, comprising 56 photographs, which showed the traces that the war had left on the country. Places such as Belchite, Figueres and Lleida were beautifully portrayed throughout this series.

In his final years, from 2000 through to his death in 2005, he would accentuate the nuances of black, showcasing his extraordinary mastery of chiaroscuro and illumination.

 Text extracted from the catalog