Manel Armengol arrived in NY shortly before the cold winter of 1977-78, sent as a graphic correspondent by a large-circulation Spanish weekly shortly after the death of dictator Franco. But those reports aren’t what we show in this exhibition, they are those images that Armengol took during his multiple trips between the depauperate Bronx area and the festive crowd of artists, musicians and students who were enjoying themselves in Washington Square and the Dowtown from the Village, Soho and Chinatown.
NY a city of high contrasts:
Small poetic notes such as the chair of “El Rincón del Bar” or “Margaritas at breakfast”, artists’ graphics on the walls, scenes of local customs in the snow, eccentric characters at the legendary underground CBGB, Divine acting in a theater, Andy Warhol at a party at Studio 54, young people smoking and singing under the full moon at St. Mark’s Place, people living in extreme loneliness and degradation in Bowery’s relief centers or on the streets. Sober and blind walls of earthy color, architectures of boarded-up windows, dark staircases that constantly evoke a feeling of loneliness, or signs of pastoral longing in “A Place in the Country”. Large American cars of different models and colors photographed on a quiet Sunday morning without visible human presence, resembling a colorful and static model in a children’s playroom.
Armengol presents for the first time this series of photographs of NY, which had remained unpublished until now. Some of them are handcrafted copies made in the author’s analog laboratory (the last runs he made before closing his personal laboratory), presented side by side with the accentuated and vibrant color notes of the print runs on the legendary Cibachrome support (later called Ilfochrome Classic) made a few years ago in Paris by Roland Dufau, a master teacher in this specialty. It is therefore an exceptional occasion to contemplate color copies of Cibachrome, a support of which only a few samples remain, acquired by few professionals in 2012 when Ilford closed production.
Manel Armengol has always worked as a photographer and photojournalist, and some of his photographs have become icons in the field of social reporting of the late 70s, such as his famous photographs of the Spanish Transition. Popular atmospheres, scenes of the streets or images of the daily life of people, reflected by a naked look that is full of tenderness in numerous occasions, intermingles with violent and energetic images, of manifestations, revolts and radical social changes of the moment. This set of works, is of great importance to understand the most contemporary society, the chronicle of a moment that marked the beginning of a new historical stage.
He studied journalism at the CIC Barcelona and started working as a journalist in various communication media until 1976, the year in which he became completely dedicated to photojournalism. The times of political transition from Francoism to democracy were when he took the photographs of the police charge against a peaceful demonstration organized by the Assemblea de Catalunya on February 1st, 1976, photographs that were published in the news and magazines of The United States and Europe (Paris-Match, The New York Times, Newsweek, Le Nouvel Observateur, News Reporter, Der Spiegel, etc). That report was awarded with the National Photographic Prize of the Flash-Foto magazine, and is currently a part of the collection of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.
During the period from 1976 to 1979, Manel Armengol was recognized as a prestigious photojournalist, being a special envoy for various media in countries in the East, America and North Africa, living one year in New York by the end of 1977 as a correspondent for Interviú magazine in the United States. In the early 80’s, a serious accident forced him to withdraw from the current journalistic activity by starting a personal research in the world of photography, from “a hunter to a fisherman of images”, that’s how he describes himself as a photographer at this stage of personal transformation. If it was the “click” of the snapshot before, now he photographed in long nocturnal exposures as we see in the Gaudí-Nocturn series (nocturnal photographs of the La Pedrera chimneys by Gaudí, where he then lived), and the series El Foc (in relation to the ancient rites and myths of fire), both series based on the use of blue as a reference to imaginary and dreamlike worlds inspired by the spirit of “the beyond”, an evocation of mystical and philosophical impact on the which has been submerged in the convalescence stage of his accident. Later, in the early 90s, he returned to the use of the analog film in black and white (digital photography has already been extended) to enter in a photographic relationship with Nature with the series Elements, Terrae, Herbarium that would continue to develop over almost three decades, with the use of cameras of different formats and with different starting points: Elements searches for the relationships and interaction of Elements with each other; Terrae (from the Earth) with two-trip photos (2003 and 2008) in Iceland wants to show how the planet is a living being as he felt it breathe while photographing at two in the morning of the enlightened boreal night at the fumaroles of Namarkard; in Herbarium he portrays portraits of insignificant and habitual herbs in an Empordà field looking for their individualities from the most green amorphous. Armengol’s photographic career is indissolubly linked to his life events and his time. In photojournalism the social and political denunciation is present; in the works with Nature he tries to approach “the object” intimately with respect and veneration, attitudes that he considers forgotten or lost to the present urban man. So we have to interpret the author’s work as calls and invitations to reflect rather than finding photographs aimed at applauding a refined elaboration. Impressed by the bloody warlike attacks of the early 21st century and the destruction of the natural environment that augurates a convulsive future of mankind, he proposes the return to a “0” point that will allow us to start a stage of global hope. This purpose is materialized in two alphabets; Signes d’un alfabet (2000) i Alfabet trobat a les aigües (2007), polyptych individuals in rigorous black and white. From 2010 Armengol has reacted against the cult of technical perfection of photography (Blue Travel - blue, blue - and Blue Garden - b/w -) using the pinhole camera (a hole in a box without a lens for the light to slip in) to obtain inaccurate images in which the atmosphere, lights and shadows are significant, inviting you to immerse yourself in imaginary spaces close to the mystical idea of “mundus imaginalis” as well expressed by philosopher Henry Corbin.