JTF (just the facts): Published by Dalpine in 2020 (here). Softcover with spiral binding, 144 pages, with about 150 color photographs. Includes a poem by Pepe Sales. In an edition of 300 copies (4 different covers). Design by Gerard Joan, Martí Gasull, Salvi Danés. (Cover and spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: The work of the Spanish photographer Salvi Danés explores the nuances of social situations, often investigating cities through their residents. The Spanish publisher Dalpine recently released Danés’s photobook A les 8 al bar Eusebi which had been originally self-published in a very small edition in 2019. This photobook is a real gem and definitely deserves a wider audience. It focuses on La Modelo, the oldest and most infamous prison in Barcelona (it’s now closed), and the adjacent Eusebi bar, and while this subject might already sound intriguing, it is Danés’s execution that makes this project particularly exciting.
A les 8 al bar Eusebi means “at 8 at bar Eusebi” in Spanish. It is a softcover book with spiral binding at the top and bottom. The cover has flaps and is just slightly narrower than the actual book pages. Inside, the photographs are printed full spread on a thin paper. A portrait of an older man shot from above, with deep wrinkles on his face, takes up the whole cover and sets a tone of voyeuristic mystery.
The first thing we notice about Danés’s photographs is their color – a brownish, musty, close to copper wash of color darkens all of the photographs, immediately muting the mood of the visual narrative. (The binding ring is also copper colored, a thoughtful design detail.) This color palette infuses the pictures with gritty edge of suspense, and this feeling is only intensified by photographs that are shot from above or in rather close. This approach creates a sense of continuous watching and surveillance, almost in a film noir or mob movie mode, and Danés repeatedly doubles the photographs, ensuring that we feel a cinematic effect in the photobook format. The combination of these strategies produces an engrossing and darkly secretive visual flow.
Danés’s photographs focus on the architecture of the prison; the bar next to it; the prisoners in the outdoor space; and old men who frequent the bar. Most of his images get very close, creating an impression of investigation and control. One of the first spreads is a layered close up of the prison setting, with dark brickwork, barbed wire at the bottom, a tiny security camera, and part of the sign of the bar – in one image, Danés connects a number of visual ideas. The following spread shows three older men walking through a revolving door, almost in unison: the man in the middle wears sunglasses, the man on the left bites his lip, and the mustachioed man on the right looks away. Yet if we look closer, it is obvious that the three images are stitched together, a time slice in repetition.
Danés always keeps us in a tight space with his photographs: there are plenty of claustrophobic close ups, tight crops, fragments, and observant (almost obsessive) details, and there is almost no negative space. He applies a montage technique to build up the atmosphere, layering the variously sized pictures on top of each other. The prison itself gets a significant amount of attention, continually looming above us or blocking us in, the geometries of its walls, fences, rooflines, and catwalks pushed into overlapped interaction, and Danés’s copper palette plays well with the corroded details of the building.
Another sequence is tied together by a circular motif. One spread pairs two shots of the same round safety mirror – the one on the left is empty, while the second image depicts a figure of a man passing by. The following photograph looks down at the bald head of a man, the round bald spot split across the binding. Then an image of a round stone window on the inner tower of the prison, its many circles like eyes – yet another reminder of being watched. Danés amplifies this surveillance effect in another spread. One side depicts a vertical portrait of a man slouching down the street, his hands inside the pockets of his coat; the other adds two more shots of same man, taken just moments apart, which are paired with two shots through a chainlink fence. We get a sense that the man is being watched (perhaps from behind the fence) and is unaware of it.
The photographs of the bar focus on particular details – the entrance, an old style telephone, a key cabinet, a window frame, and shelves with bottles and glasses. And Danés’s portraits recall telephoto-style surveillance or spycraft, with earpieces, phones, leather gloves, shiny shoes, and other looks and gestures seeming to mean more than they usually do. All these elements tie together into shifting and elusive cinematic flow, a study of sequencing and montage.
We often causally use the word cinematic to describe how a photobook links together imagery, but Danés’s A les 8 al bar Eusebi is a far more sophisticated example of this kind of thinking than we usually see. His photobook is a clever and thoughtfully produced object that immerses us in a disorienting atmosphere of suspense and surveillance, making every ordinary bar patron look like a suspect.
Collector’s POV: Salvi Danés 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).