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HomeContents > People > Photographers > José Ortiz-Echagüe

Dates:  1886, 21 August - 1980, 7 September
Born:  Spain, Guadalajara
Died:  Spain, Madrid
Active:  Spain
 
  
One of the greatest of the Spanish pictorialists and nowhere near as well known as he deserves to be.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for José Ortiz-Echagüe
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

 
  
José Ortiz-Echagüe is the internationally best-known Spanish photographer of all time; calling him the Picasso of Spanish photography would not be inaccurate. Active in the medium for over sixty years, he was the leader of the photographic community in Madrid and active as a salon exhibitor worldwide. He was widely heralded for his Fresson (or direct-carbon) prints, which showed masterful manipulation. His work became known to a vast popular audience through an important set of four books he published, depicting the people, landscape, religion, customs, and architecture of Spain.
 
Ortiz-Echagüe was born on August 21, 1886, in Guadalajara, and grew up in Logrono. He studied military engineering back in Guadalajara, and beginning in 1909 was stationed in Morocco as an aviator in the Spanish army. After returning to Spain a few years later, he earned one of the country’s first pilot’s licenses. During the 1910s, he worked as an engineer in France and Argentina. In 1923, he founded CASA, Spain’s leading manufacturer of aeronautical equipment, and in 1950 he became the head of SEAT, the country’s largest auto manufacturer.
 
Ortiz-Echagüe acquired his first camera at twelve and five years later achieved his first artistic success, an impressionistic image of a church service. Spain was resistant to modernization in the beginning of the twentieth century, but her heritage was, nonetheless, slowly eroding. Realizing this, Ortiz-Echagüe decided to undertake the encyclopedic task of capturing on film as many as possible of the threatened traditions still practiced, largely by the lower classes. Most intriguing about him was his dual use of the photographic medium. He was, at the same time and often with the same images, both a pictorialist and a documentarian, like a strange cross between William Mortensen and August Sander. Ortiz-Echagüe’s substantial body of work is simultaneously a comprehensive record of the indigenous traditions of a particular culture and a highly self-conscious proclamation of photography as an art form, a stylistic hybrid unusual in the history of photography.
 
Ortiz-Echagüe’s monochrome prints were invariably direct carbon prints, that he termed Fresson, though they are only distantly related to the present-day color Fresson process. Developed with a brush and a soupy sawdust solution, they allowed extensive control, handwork, and manipulation. Portions of the image could be emphasized, diminished, or eliminated. Even after the print dried it could be reworked, by rewetting and repeating the development process. Ortiz-Echagüe’s carefully crafted prints often look manicured, groomed, and even surreal.
 
The major vehicle for his images was the series of books he published. Consisting of four tiles, they constitute an impressive compendium of Iberian types. España: Tipos y Trajes (1933) depicted village people and their clothing; España: Pueblos y Paisajes (1938) pictured Spanish cities and landscapes; España Mistica (1943) essayed the country’s religious traditions; and España: Castillos y Alcázaras (1956) presented the castles and fortresses of Spain. Though issued over a period of about twenty-five years, the books form a coherent set and were numbered Tomo I though IV. Printed in numerous editions and including up to 300 full-page plates, more than 200,000 volumes were sold internationally. Later printings feature color work by Ortiz-Echagüe, which was decidedly more documentary in approach than his black-and-white images.
 
Ortiz-Echagüe exhibited in pictorial salons and won awards internationally from the late 1910s into the 1950s, except during World War II. Among the countries were his work was accepted was Spain, Italy, France, Czechoslovakia, England, South Africa, Japan, India, and the United States. He presented one-man shows at the Royal Photographic Society (London) in 1935, and the Smithsonian Institution (Washington, D.C.) in 1952. His pictorial work was frequently reproduced in England’s Photograms of the Year, for which he wrote an annual report on his country’s exhibitions, periodicals, and camera clubs during some of the 1910s and from 1920 to 1936. In 1970, José Ortiz-Echagüe retired, and ten years later, on September 7, he died in Madrid. 
  
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012) 
  
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission. 
  
Date last updated: 1 June 2013. 
  
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We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
 
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Further research

 
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Portraits 
  
If you have a portrait of this photographer or know of the whereabouts of one we would be most grateful. 
  
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Family history 
  
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Visual indexes

 
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Internet biographies

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Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online (www.groveart.com) has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
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Internet resources

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José Ortiz-Echagüe 
http://www.unav.es ... 
Archive: Legado Ortiz Echagüe - Universidad de Navarra, Spain. 
  
 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

 
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.166 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
  
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.370 
  
• Evans, Martin Marix (Executive ed.) 1995 Contemporary Photographers [Third Edition] (St. James Press - An International Thomson Publishing Company) [Expensive reference work but highly informative.] 
  
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on José Ortiz-Echagüe.] 
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
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