El archivo de la memoria , 2006-2013

Although Juan Manuel Castro Prieto began earning his living as a photographer at the Museo Arqueológico Nacional of Madrid, the photographs taken at the Musée d’Orsay offer a personal interpretation of a museum environment, of the art pieces in situ and of the spectators behaviors. Castro Prieto creates confusion when, in the manner of a visitor isolating a detail of Courbet’s L’homme blessé, he emphasizes the serenity, even sensuality, of the wounded figure. His Musée d’Orsay body of work forms part of a vast project on memory, in which museums, as manifestations of people’s desire to preserve their artistic heritage, play an essential role.

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Equilibrio inestable, 2007-2012

Like Extraños, Equilibrio inestable presents photographs taken in different places and at different times. Both series use the same symbolic language and share the same sense of unease. But while the Extraños photos show a balance destroyed, Equilibrio inestable presages an imminent rupture. Never set up, seemingly softer, due to a range of subtle colours, the pictures are however no less oppressive. They are a reflection of the precariousness of happiness and of life, which can at any moment plunge into hell.

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Cespedosa, 2007-2012

Several years after Diario familiar, Juan Manuel Castro Prieto dedicated a new series to Cespedosa, the village of his childhood, in which he pays homage to his parents and grandparents who lived their whole lives there. It is also an introspective work, as he photographs the places, people and distinctive rites of this village that nourished his memories and built his personality.

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Bodas de sangre, 2010-2011

Juan Manuel Castro Prieto has always seen photography as telling a story, and thus closer to literature than to painting. It is in the drama Bodas de sangre by Federico García Lorca that the photographer finds the material for his eponymous series. But he doesn’t deliver a literal illustration of this story of impossible love. On the contrary, Castro Prieto offers a personal symbolic interpretation in a series of photographs as disastrous predictions creating a tragic atmosphere.

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La huella de chambi, 2009-2010

Despite Juan Manuel Castro Prieto’s long admiration for Martín Chambi, Perú, viaje al Sol was a personal, introspective and sensitive work that carried little sign of the Peruvian photographer. In contrast, when he returned in 2009-2010, it was with the desire to pay him tribute. He follows in Chambi’s steps, travelling a landscape that is more social than focused on the past, but he never tries to imitate him. His use of colour, as in his more recent photos, emphasizes that the works of Chambi and Castro Prieto belong to different eras, in which the Spanish photographer looks for continuity, correspondence and discontinuity.

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Etiopía, 2001-2006

Like Peru, Ethiopia is a real obsession for Juan Manuel Castro Prieto who has returned there many times. He finds there an ancestral memory of humanity. His photographs – where for the first time colour alternates with black & white – are stripped down of any exoticism and stereotypes and constitute less a travel diary than a prolonged meditation. Simultaneously precise and symbolic, this meditation deals with a land in the grip of an ambiguous temporality, where a primeval figure – incarnated by a receding silhouette – and a diffuse spirituality, converse with the objects, signs and behaviours of the modern world.

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La seda rota, 2005

La seda rota brings together photographs of the home of the Madrazo family, a dynasty of the 19th and 20th century Madrid painters, now died out. In a dialog with the writings of his friend and author Andrés Trapiello, Juan Manuel Castro Prieto translates the strange, even oppressive, atmosphere pervading these places which are as frozen in an uncertain time and haunted by the memory of its inhabitants. Between presence and absence, the accumulation of painted portraits and photographs emphasize the fate of this family, with the posthumously painted portrait of their last child symbolizing their end.

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Extraños, 1984-2004

Extraños shares aspects of Diario familiar but also reveals new directions in Juan Manuel Castro Prieto’s work. At the very core of the photographer’s artistic journey, this series revolves around four main themes: childhood (always) but also sex, death, and what he calls “personal space”. Although some of these photographs express strong feelings and violent tension – “Even in a lot of my nudes, death is there” – all are ambiguous and mysterious. Served by a complex symbolism that can be read on many levels, they tend to evoke the strangeness of the world that surrounds us.

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Perú, viaje al Sol, 1990-2000

When he travelled there in 1990 to make some prints from negatives by Martin Chambi, the photographer he admires most, Juan Manuel Castro Prieto had already turned Peru into a personal myth that he would never stop exploring. Perú, viaje al Sol is the fruit of nine visits and thousands of plate-camera photos. Castro Prieto doesn’t restrict himself to the remarkable sites of Machu Picchu and Wiñay Wayna; he plunges deep into the jungle and goes forth to meet the inhabitants of remote villages. This photographer is not out to make a documentary. On the contrary, he gives his imagination free rein nourished by Chambi’s images and the writings of José Maria Arguedas, Ciro Alegría and the poet César Vallejo.

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Diario familiar, 1977-1998

Juan Manuel Castro Prieto is obsessed with childhood, and has been for over 20 years. He keeps returning to Cespedosa and the surroundings of this village near Salamanca where he spent his first years, so crucial for him. The portraits of his parents and grandparents, the countrysides and interior views and objects in this founding series seem intended to preserve the vestiges of a bygone world that still seems threatening. But to these sanitized and silent photos he has added animated portraits of his family’s children, bringing back the memories, dreams and demons of childhood which the photographer has captured.

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El álbum perdido, 1993-1995

El álbum perdido brings together a set of photos – often presented as a polyptych – taken in Peru, Andalucia and Cespedosa. Obtained from Polaroid negatives altered by heat, the prints are then toned in gold. They seem to be extracted from an album of ancient photographs. They blur temporality and reinvent the memory of landscapes that Juan Manuel Castro Prieto has already photographed. For him, “these are the traces of a symbolic topography that evoke the construction of our own experience, that speak of the coexistence of memory with life yet to come”.

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