Enrique Fraga, Terminal

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2021 by Dalpine (here). Softcover with dust jacket (21.5 x 33 cm), 150 pages, with 80 color photographs. Design by Tres Tipos Gráficos. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Terminal, a new photobook released by Dalpine, an independent publishing house in Madrid, examines the fate of those whose life consists of unending business travel, focusing on the isolation and detachment it brings. The artist, Enrique Fraga, is an executive for a multinational company in Spain and his job requires almost constant traveling. Fraga is also a photographer, and in his work as an artist he turns his lens back on his own way of life, describing it as “living in an endless cycle that invariably ends at the starting point.”

Terminal is a physically heavy book, printed on glossy paper, with all of the images in full bleed. The title is placed at the top of the cover in all capital letters, and an arrow pointing down appears at the bottom right corner, leading us inside and mimicking signs common at airports all around the world; the artist’s name appears on the back, with an arrow pointing in the opposing direction, turning us around. Placed against a grey background, these arrangements immediately set an atmosphere of repetitive, disorienting monotony. The title and artist’s name are elegantly placed on the spine, at the top and and the bottom, while the space in the center is a gradient of yellow color, definitely a bold design element. The flaps of the book hide a bright yellow cover, and this color pop ups here and there throughout the book as a recurring motif. Fraga’s images are presented without captions or context, immersing us into dark, claustrophobic, and somehow enigmatic settings.

Terminal follows Fraga as he travels from one numbingly nondescript location to another. Most of the photographs are rather dark, but his use of flash and vague backgrounds makes the subjects stand out. Close ups and tight framing place the viewer in a very narrow and disorienting space, and the pages without images are dark black, again reinforcing the atmosphere of isolation. There is no indication of time or location, turning the series into a more universal non-place. 

The book opens with a sequence of images alternating blurry pixelated shots of an early morning sunrise (likely taken through a hotel or airplane window) and a naked woman sleeping in bed. The woman is the artist’s partner, and her presence represents his connection to family and home. This is followed by a full spread photo showing a close up of man’s hand typing on an iPhone. The image is rather dark, yet the bright light makes the key details to stand out: the perfect white sleeve of a dress shirt, a polished fingernail, a tiny fragment of a tie, and the contour of a hell tailored coat. With the accent on these details, we immediately know that this is a portrait of a businessman,  perhaps a generic well-appointed stand-in for Fraga himself. 

As we follow along to the airports and airplanes, the space is again tight and disorienting, and sometimes it takes a moment to figure out what exactly we are looking at. A profile portrait of a man on an airplane wearing a sleep mask is shot against the window and lit with blue light, and a few spreads later, there is a similar portrait but this time on the opposite page and from the opposite side. Is it just another flight? Are we going or coming back? Seat back tray tables, waiting room seats, and views from airplane windows out into the emptiness of the sky leave us in limbo, surrounded by familiar but faceless details. 

Pictures of Fraga’s partner are placed throughout the book, like a quiet refrain. We see her back as she sleeps; pages later, she gently takes off a purple top; and then again, she sits on a bed. She represents the warmth and human connection Fraga leaves behind as he takes off on yet another business trip. 

There are many fragmentary photographs of people, mostly men, but we never actually see their faces. What’s more important are the details: a close up of a suit’s fabric, details of perfectly styled hair, a watch underneath a suit cuff, another close up of crossed arms, hands holding a briefcase, fingers opening up a morning newspaper, an arm resting on a piece of rolling luggage etc. Each of these fragments adds to the picture of executives and professionals we know nothing about, yet from these singular details, we can immediately understand the nature of their lifestyle. 

As we come to the end of the book, there are portraits of people who look exhausted and tired, worn down by the journeying. They are mixed with shots of the empty and cold hallways of hotels or conference buildings and of escalators; they look different, yet always the same. One of the last images is a portrait of the artist’s partner, with morning sunlight on her face as she looks down – the trip ultimately returns to where it began.

Terminal is a clever and thoughtfully produced object, immersing us in the disorienting atmosphere of cyclical business trips, but also quietly making a parody of the rat race. Fraga smartly captures the essence of this kind of contemporary travel (at least before the pandemic), but also shows it with a healthy sense of bleak satire.  

Collector’s POV: Enrique Fraga does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via his website (linked in the sidebar).

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