The girl in white
Carlos Pérez Siquier
La Chanca, Almería, 1957
© Carlos Pérez Siquier
A landmark in Pérez Siquier’s career was the project he developed on La Chanca, a fishing shanty town in Almería that was once a Muslim ghetto where, for a long period of time (1956-1965), the photographer was captivated by the dignity of its poverty-stricken inhabitants. A series of photos enshrined in an architecture of shacks and caves with sculptural properties and dazzling light, of harsh blacks and whites, a poetic space that is overwhelming in its beauty yet devastating in terms of its material deprivation in the grey backdrop that was Spain at that time.
Juan Goytisolo also wrote an eponymous novel about La Chanca in 1962, warning us that “inside the caves I glimpse the deformed figures of old men, women, children. Madness and tuberculosis have taken their toll on them and I get the impression that they hide away as we pass.”
In both cases, we are party to work that harshly denounces a situation of slavery, poverty and exploitation. We can sense this in the girl’s face, whose eyes, half-closed in the sun, could easily reflect, or at least it seems to me, the same painful subject matter as the photos that Diane Arbus used to take in the parks, the asylums and the streets. “A photograph is a secret about a secret,” she said, and this portrait by Pérez Siquier reflects that truth.
Along with José María Artero, Siquier created the legendary AFAL group (1956-1963) and its magazine which used to channel all the avantgarde photography of those years in Spain, including Ramón Masats, Ricard Terré, Gabriel Cualladó, and Oriol Maspons, among others. Although it was a very heterogeneous group, its common thread was the socialist and humanist way they expressed themselves.
Pérez Siquier was thus a committed, humanist and neorealist photographer who invites us in all his works on La Chanca on a humble and eye-opening journey in the wake of his historic exhibition The Family of Man which, in 1955 documented the harsh conditions of the post-war years in Spain, showing how values and principles unite all human beings equally; an exhibition curated by Edward Steichen and featuring 270 photographs which were initially shown at the MoMA in New York before touring the world. Steichen himself, in 1959, invited some of the photographers from AFAL to take part in the exhibition Masterworks of Photography from its Beginnings to the Present, another important group exhibition at the MoMA which was a real accolade to these magnificent photographers.