My Kingdom by Catalan photographer Txema Salvans offers a sharp-witted insight into contemporary Spanish society, and a wry comment on the climate of power in the artist's home country. Salvans splices together blackand-white photographs of ordinary citizens enjoying the Mediterranean coast, with citations from the political rhetoric of former King of Spain, Juan Carlos I (1975–2015). Drenched in authority and affect, his speech conveys a King playing the role of a good-natured sovereign, the tender ruler of a democratic monarchy.
In Salvans' subversive combination of image and text, the language acts like a socio-political filter, through which the gestures and emotions of the beach-goers are seen – the hopes, the indolence, and the aggression of people parading their own small sovereignties: the freedom to nap, eat, sunbathe, play, love and suffer, and display their human uniqueness. Power, as something embodied and enacted, permeates the king's speech and the interactions of ordinary Spaniards, on the beaches and residential development of 'real' Spain.
Accompanying My Kingdom is a booklet containing extracts of fervent speeches by political figures including Thatcher, Mussolini, Churchill and Chaplin the Dictator, all proclaiming the authoritarian power of the state over people.
Power wears off those who do not have it, recites one of the most famous phrases by Giulio Andreotti, the longest-lived statesman and politician of the Republican history of our country. The quote in truth is not by him, but according to historians, by the famous French politician and diplomat of the eighteenth century, Charles Maurice de Tayllerand. My Kingdom, the latest publication by the Catalan photographer Txema Salvans, talks about contemporary Spanish power and society. Juan Carlos I (1975-2015) was an important monarch for the Spanish transition from the regime of Francisco Franco, the proponent of a traditionalist, authoritarian, conservative and Catholic dictatorship, inspired by fascism, up to democracy.
In the book by Txema Salvans, drawn by Atlas in a captivating and elegant way, the maxims of Juan Carlos I are very effectively alternated with black and white photographs, mostly square, of ordinary citizens enjoying leisure and time. free along the Mediterranean coast. From Gerona to Algeciras, bathers take over the landscape by investing themselves in a subtly authoritarian hierarchy. The self-management of a small beach, the sovereignty of a rest area, the power of a rock overlooking the sea, become the ideal wings for the satisfaction of everyone's freedom. Our beach, our sea, our island, our sun, our family. Eating, sleeping, sunbathing, talking, playing, flirting are the acts of this summer comedy. An ironic comment, sometimes grotesque, on the climate of power of Spanish society. An individual, human and systemic power for which we all fight. Me, us, the King, the Government, the Nation.
Accompanying My Kingdom is a green leaflet containing excerpts from speeches by figures such as Margaret Thatcher, Benito Mussolini, Emperor Hirohito, Salvador Allende, Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplin the Great Dictator, which emphasize the authority of power and its hegemonic hegemony on the governance of society. Kings, Queens, Emperors, Presidents, and Prime Ministers have always used the rhetoric of power and the glorious roaring nationalist idea to seduce their people and exert a subtle form of control.
Gianpaolo Arena: Could you tell us something more about how your project "My Kingdom" started? Did you start the project with the idea of making a book? Txema Salvans: End of the 90s until the first decade of the year 2000, I alternated the newspaper editorial commissions with the advertising commissions. For different reasons the editorial commissions were disappearing and I found time to focus on my own concerns. I found that this change of work paradigm opened a unique opportunity for me, and I took advantage of it. I came to the conclusion that the books were a good ending for projects as extensive as mine.
Projects to which I can devote a minimum of seven years (my Kingdom) or more than a decade like the trilogy "The Waiting Game", which recently I have published the second part. When I finished my first book, Nice to Meet You [published in 2005], I decided to keep working with the same territory and subject – how people manage their free time. With My Kingdom – as time passed and the project grew, I realised that these photographs could illustrate more than the simple idea of Spaniards on vacation. I could add complexity to explain more, though always with "good photos". Over the last few years, Spain has lead Europe in terms of crises and bad politicians. I decided to politicise the series, to make a work that talks about power. I decided to use the most significant political figure in Spain, the one that has accompanied me from childhood to maturity "King Juan Carlos". King Juan Carlos grew up under the tutelage of Franco, and it was the Franco regime that decided that, on the death of the caudillo ['leader', but also 'military dictator'] the monarchy would be restored. It seemed very revealing to me that in the investiture speech the figure of the King was justified in this way, 'As King of Spain, title vested in me by historical tradition', not a democratic act. In the same way, all the coins [pesetas] which featured Franco's face featured this text – 'Caudillo de españa por la gracia de dios' ['Caudillo de españa by the grace of God']. It seemed very significant to justify these infinitely subjective decisions by historical tradition or by a divine act. I was born in 1971; Franco died in 1975, the same year that Juan Carlos became King of Spain. Juan Carlos then accompanied us throughout the transition [from Franco's regime to democracy] until his abdication in 2014. The texts throughout My Kingdom are taken from the Christmas speeches he made throughout his reign. These speeches always had a large audience, because the king represented modernity and a new era. But they were always paternalistic, seemingly aimed at an audience that took his destiny, his position in the world, as a given. I have printed these texts using same typography used by teleprompters, that invention that allows you to read a text that you have not written, and which you do not need to believe, looking directly into the viewers' eyes. All that is needed is a reader who "seems honest".
GA: Why did you include a booklet with extracts from speeches figures such as Thatcher, Hitler, Mussolini, and Charlie Chaplin's Great Dictator? TS: This book is not about Spaniards on vacation, and it's not a book about the King, it is a book about power. I chose a selection of great speeches from history, speeches in which a speaker built the intersubjective idea of nation, and got listeners into the position where they would give their lives, and those of their children, to that idea. But is important to say this book is not a criticism of a "specific" character, but an analysis of a system, or even of a human trait. Here is the strange thing, My Kingdom not only refers to the territory over which a King reigns, but also the things we all fight for – our family, our car, our friends, our holiday apartment, our piece of beach, our son, our credit card, our body… To reinforce this idea, the first image you find is Txema Salvans's Kingdom, my own family, Laura, Jan and Bruna, having a picnic in a service area of the Mediterranean highway. And what you see in that picture is Laura's Kingdom, her children...
GA: How do you approach the Mediterranean coast and the citizens included in the book while working on your project? TS: My personal project has always been circumscribed in the Spanish Mediterranean, from Gerona to Algeciras. It is my emotional territory. I think one of my greatest achievements is that I can photograph people without making them look ridiculous, although there is a lot of irony in my work. It's something I do naturally, I have that intuition, but the most important thing is the edit, in which you can decide to reinforce certain aspects. Never be afraid to edit out a good photo if it doesn't contribute the overall project. My photography requires a lot of discipline. Because I shoot at home in Spain, there is nothing new for me – nothing aesthetically unknown, no strange customs, as can happen when you travel to other countries. But this means there is something in my favour, that my voice has value because I know and I am part of what I have photographed. It is never an anecdote.
GA: How did your collaboration with MACK and Atlas start? TS: Atlas is a team of two people Pablo Martín and Astrid Stavro. With Pablo we have known each other for more than twenty years, we had done some work together. Astrid I met her later, our first collaboration was the design of The Waiting Game 1. It was a very delicate project, and I wanted the look and the help of what for me was a Top designer with an exquisite sense for photography. It helped that Astrid has always shown a respect for my work. We have always understood perfectly, she lets me talk and then synthesizes it with a sober elegance, with Astrid never left anything. I must say that Laura, my wife, is also an excellent designer who helps us throughout the layout phase, etc… I could mention 10 books with fabulous photos that do not work because of the design. But I could mention 100 books with bulgar pictures that work because the design! I sent a PDF with My Kingdom's work as one who buys a lottery number, and a few weeks later I was answered by Michael who was interested. The book took a long time to leave, but finally when it did, it came out with the quality that Mack is used to. And above all with Mack's ability to get your book to all corners, finally that's what it's about. Talking with Michael is a luxury (when you get it) he understands you the first time and empathizes with your work, and his insights are always accurate and the result of a huge experience. It is true, publishing with Mack is like winning the lottery, although when you go to pick up your car you find the same car of the last ten years. But who the hell wants a new car if you can spend it on film, gasoline and highway snacks. I only have two options: photography or medication!
GA: What has been your 3 favorite photo-books in the last few years? TS: As time is relative I will extend the "last years";
Telex Iran, from Gilles Peress Ray's a laugh, by Richard Billingham American Prospect, by Joel Sternfeld
OTA bound paperback with silkscreen printed cover and flaps. With stapled booklet and postcard