This summer Fundación Mapfre opens 868 square metres of white cube space in the heart of Madrid, dedicated to exhibiting masters of photography and those just entering the international arena.
Debuting in the new space is British photographer and Henri Cartier-Bresson Award winner Vanessa Winship, with 183 photographs taken across the Balkans, Turkey and Caucasus, the USA and even in her quaint hometown of Barton-upon-Humber.
The exhibition is a stream of haunting expressions and dilapidated environments – according to curator, Carlos Martín García, depicting “the prints that twentieth century history has left upon the land and people.”
Winship rejects categorisation as a documentary photographer, however her work is a clear documentary record of rebellion and conflict – with a nod to portraiture in her staged series.
The most striking set of photographs within MAPFRE is undoubtedly Black Sea: Between Chronicle and Fiction. Travelling across the borders of Ukraine, Russia, Romania, Turkey, Georgia and Bulgaria between 2002-2010, Winship recorded the traditions and troubles of six divided nations which are connected by the sea – itself recorded in such heavy-set detail that it becomes a concrete stopping point within the exhibition.
Meanwhile the confrontational glares of Anatolian schoolgirls in series Sweet Nothings, conflict with their delicately embroidered uniforms – love letters stamped onto coarse fabric as a defiant act of individuality – and the American youths of her series she dances on Jackson stand awkwardly beside cars, shop windows, bleak (and weak) representations of the American dream gone wrong.
Whilst Winship’s photographs are beautiful, highly detailed and thoughtfully executed, her series do not stand particularly well together. she dances on Jackson and her newest work in Almeria, Spain cannot live up to the apparent tragedy of her Eastern European series whose troubled individuals we, as Western viewers, are simply fascinated by as immune onlookers.
The issue of documentary photography (which, undoubtedly, is) has always been an ethical one: we enjoy beautiful photographs of ugly scenarios, but why and should we and is this enough?
Winship’s photographs give her subjects a voice and a pinch of recognition; but the significance of this pales as soon as you leave the exhibition and -inevitably – discover another similar set of works just around the corner.
Vanessa Winship is showing at FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE, Bárbara de Braganza, 13, Madrid until 31st August, 2014.