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Spain Arts & Culture Presenting “Visual Journeys Back And Forth Between Spain and the U.S.”

To view images full size, left click on each

That the artistry of photography and videography is flourishing among Spaniards living and working in both the United States and Spain was once again demonstrated in a terrific 2013 photography show mounted by the Embassy of Spain. And the networking among the artists in this bourgeoning movement is being further nurtured by the Spanish Embassy’s Arts and Culture program —  as also witnessed by the quality of the embassy’s other exhibition showing the work of six young photographers.

Xavier Nuez, "Alleys & Ruins," no. 139, Tracks (Chicago, Illinois 2011, 10pm).

Xavier Nuez, “Alleys & Ruins,” no. 139, Tracks (Chicago, Illinois 2011, 10pm).

These six artists, all members of SPAINRED, the Spanish cultural network, were selected from 30 applicants for the show, a month-long collaboration with DC FotoWeek 2013. These artists live and work primarily in Brooklyn, Chicago, Barcelona, Baltimore, and Madrid; all six seem wonderfully peripatetic, however, both in that many of them practice their artistry in both Spain and the U.S. and, with several, by traveling throughout one or both of these two countries.

Javier Corso, from the "Soldier" series.

Javier Corso, from the “Soldier” series.

Their work, however, is very diverse, with all six displaying intensely personal aesthetics in their film art. The works encompasses, for example, haunting portraits of U.S. or Spanish military figures and activities by Javier Corso; birds-eye views of faraway and enigmatic landscapes that seem to have been taken from vehicular rearview mirrors or through the windows of passenger airplanes by Carla Tramullas; images of a young traveler’s souvenir objects brought back from annual trips to Spain from the U.S. and delightfully photographed by Ana Hayes-Perez; ruined and abandoned American city scenes captured in lush color through long exposure times using a large format Hasselblad  camera by Xavier Nuez; pensive and puzzling scenes of people in gritty urban neighborhoods composed in photographs with patterned shadows in carefully designed and sharply defined contrasts of black and white by Raul Urbina; and images of people encountered as though carefully posed in casual and impromptu community wanderings by a disarmingly candid photographer named Monica Lek.

Xavier Nuez, derelict Detroit motor inn from the “Alleys and Ruins” series.

Xavier Nuez, derelict Detroit motor inn from the “Alleys and Ruins” series.

I responded most strongly when viewing the work of three of these artists: Monica Lek, Raul Urbina, and Xavier Nuez.

The richly saturated colors and the riveting appearance in Monica Lek’s outstanding photograph of a middle-aged woman seated on a bench in a densely planted and colorfully flowered spot in New York City’s Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, with the woman attired in a child’s Little Bo Peep costume and wearing a wide-brim summer straw hat, is one the most beautifully composed shots in the entire show. This work is taken from Lek’s “My Neighbors” series.


Monica Lek, from the "My Neighbors" series.

Monica Lek, from the “My Neighbors” series.

My favorite of Raul Urbina’s work is from his “Chicago, I’ll Stop the Wind from Blowing” ensemble of photographs, a phenomenon he achieves by taking his windy city photographs indoors. This particular photographic work depicts two solitary men seated apart at a high window ledge counter in what appears to be an ordinary, railroad car-style diner or neighborhood café on a late afternoon. The shadow patterns and depth perceptions of this black and white image, with its sharp contrasts of dark and light, are dense and complex and serve to draw the viewer deeper and deeper into the picture’s fascinating composition.


Raul Urbina, from the "Chicago, I'll Stop the Wind from Blowing" series.

Raul Urbina, from the “Chicago, I’ll Stop the Wind from Blowing” series.

The star of the exhibition is the third of these three — Xavier Nuez, whose oversize and mesmerizing images are from his “Alleys and Ruins” series. The colors, picture elements, and compositions of his three, wall-size photographs in the show are immediately captivating. Nuez shows his work throughout the U.S. and spoke at the exhibition press briefing of typically searching out these images of dramatic ruins and alleys in destroyed areas of various American cities, this for photographing while exhibiting other works in galleries and contemporary museums in the same cities at the same time.

Working at night and patiently allowing for, at times 90-minute exposures, Nuez’s fascination with the urban phenomenon in this country of businesses simply walking away from vast swaths of the built environment when the economics of such structures no longer meet profit expectations or short- and long-term market considerations is evident — that fascination is palpable to this viewer.

Xavier Nuez, "Alleys & Ruins," no. 83, Stadium (Miami, Florida, 2006, 3:30am).

Xavier Nuez, “Alleys & Ruins,” no. 83, Stadium (Miami, Florida, 2006, 3:30am).

For example, the photographer’s capturing of a lushly colored nighttime scene of an abandoned and derelict Detroit motor inn and parking garage is frighteningly vivid yet alluringly dramatic. And his photographic encapsulation of the Hurricane Andrew-wrecked Miami Marine Stadium, a dramatic structure now in Nuez’s photograph bathed in erie lights, exotic colors, and all-over tagging of exuberant graffiti, sent me to an architectural fact sheet for this modernist icon where I found that when built to the designs of a young, 28-year-old imigrant Cuban architect, this strikingly handsome building was the largest and lengthiest cantilevered, fold-plate, poured-in-place concrete stadium roof in the world.

Nuez’s third and concluding work in the show is a photograph of a dangerous site he calls “ghost story,” an alley scene focusing on the loading dock of an abandoned building in Kansas City, Missouri, ominously lighted in preparation for something like a Stephen King horror story. The photographer’s autobiographical statement in the informative and illustrated free pamphlet accompanying the show is especially eloquent, as is the photographer when speaking in person.

 “VAIVEN: Visual Journeys Back And Forth Between Spain and the U.S.” concluded in late 2013 at the former Spanish ambassadorial residence in Adams Morgan. (We reported on this historic building and its restoration and re-purposing for showcasing Spanish arts over a year ago. See, “16th Street’s Former Spanish Ambassador’s Residence Being Considered for Use as a Center to Showcase Spanish Culture, Arts,” InTowner May 2012 issue PDF page 1;