Manolo Laguillo (Madrid, 1953) is a key figure in the field of urban documentary photography in Spain. In the late seventies and early eighties, a new documentary photography movement spread through several European and North American cities. Its spirit was captured in the emblematic exhibition New Topographics. Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape, curated by William Jenkins at George Eastman House in Rochester (1975), with the participation of Robert Adams, Stephen Shore, Lewis Baltz and German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, among others.
The ‘new topography’ redefined the fundamentals of classic documentary and naturalistic landscape photography, opting for new critical representations of urban transformation processes in the post-industrial era. This new critical documentary approach marked ‘a fundamental change in the way landscape was perceived both as a subject for photography and as a social and cultural question.’
In the early eighties, a number of photographers in Barcelona more or less consciously adopted this street documentary approach that trained the lens on the under-represented: the group included Manolo Laguillo and Humberto Rivas above all, but also Jordi Sarrà, Ferran Freixa, Jordi Guillumet and Joan Fontcuberta to some extent.
In 1978, together with Humberto Rivas, Laguillo began to photograph the outskirts of Barcelona: the industrial area of Poblenou, the industrial estates of the Besòs, the Port and its surroundings, and also the fringes of the Eixample and Sant Gervasi. With his large format camera, Laguillo shaped a dry and refined style based on frontal framing, simple geometries, and painstaking attention to angles and to the density of light.
He captured the vague, deserted, non-productive territories, buildings under construction and seemingly obsolete realities that the metropolis consistently pushes into the margins. In the nineties, he produced images of Barcelona’s Olympic and post-Olympic urban renewal: the new skyline of Diagonal, Ronda de Dalt, the Olympic area, Vall d’Hebron, Montjuïc stadium and Bellvitge. He gradually began to introduce foreshortening in his photographs and to raise their horizons. His landscapes remained uninhabited, but as the foreground expanded his photos became ‘grounded’, as he himself described it.
Laguillo played a crucial and pioneering role in the formulation of a new model representing the Catalan capital and its ongoing changes. A model that is the antithesis of the famous ‘Barcelona brand’ and instead of presenting a glossy surface reveals the cracks and incongruities in contemporary speculative urbanism. This same incisive gaze allowed him to portray the wastelands of other major cities such as Madrid, Bilbao, Berlin, and New York.
Another key aspect of Laguillo’s work is his fruitful dialogue with architecture. From 1984 to 1992, he has been documenting the work processes of architects Josep Lluís Mateo, Josep Llinàs, Eduard Bru and Ábalos & Herreros, defining a new way of interpreting the discipline through a descriptive style with a certain tendency to objectivity.
Manolo Laguillo has had an outstanding teaching career, both as a professor at the Universitat de Barcelona and through his participation in numerous seminars, congresses and workshops in cities around the world. He has curated photography exhibitions and published several books, including El Sistema de Zonas: Control del tono fotográfico (1988) –the only book in Spanish on the Zone System – and ¿Por qué fotografiar? Escritos de circunstancias 1982-1994 (1995).