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“In my flamenco portraits I look for the connection with the artist through the gaze”

The Casa de la Culturahosts a sample of the collection until the end of the month The color of Flamenco dance from the exceptional photographer Paco Sánchez, as a prelude to the next edition of the Semana Flamenca of Benalmádena. Paco Sánchez, a leading flamenco journalist, editor and photographer both in our country and abroad, portrays in his snapshots the seduction of the drama of cante, the expression of faces and the plasticity of dance with an exceptional ally such as color. He holds half a million photographs called to illustrate the memory of this art, Intangible Heritage of Humanity, and in front of his camera lens he has posed the best of the flamenco universe, raising him as the greatest portraitist of jondo art. He has carried the flag of this Andalusian art around half the planet through his exhibitions, books and works in the written press, a work with which he has brought thousands of people closer to flamenco who, in addition to singing, dancing and music, thanks to Paco Sánchez we have learned that it is also photography.

Paco, you started in the world of radio back in the 60s, how do you remember that time on Radio Valme, the germ of La Voz del Guadalquivir?

-In the mid-sixties there were local stations of a parochial nature. They belonged to the church and pretended to do a service to the towns, spreading their social and entertainment news. The general information, and above all political information, was exclusively given by Radio Nacional de España. All networks had to connect at noon and at night. The programming was basically entertainment. Contests, popular music, dedicated albums, etc. Logically there were no debates or anything like that.

-How did you get to photography?

-I remember that my father gave me a German Vöitglander camera, which had magnificent optics.  As a curiosity, a friend of my father who was a civil guard brought it to us from Ceuta. They were cheaper there.

-Do you remember what was your first flamenco photography?

-Perfectly. Some portraits of the cantaor Juan Talega for the OIGA magazine published in Seville, dedicated to bullfighting and flamenco. Unfortunately, I lost the negative that I kept between the pages of one of my study books.

– I have heard that you have a special relationship with a Gary Cooper Poster … What is the story behind this anecdote?

-Ja, ja, ja. Well when I started my love of photography I was looking for magazines to learn and not the technique or how to use the camera, but to look. I wanted to learn to look for details, the differences between photographers, to look at shadows and lights … Because that is how one learns to have a photographic education. And I remember that as a teenager, I was walking down the street where the cinema in my town was located and I noticed that when I passed an advertisement for a Gary Cooper movie, his gaze was permanent.. He would turn around and do the same route and again he would look at me. I always met his gaze. From there, and without realizing it, I became fond of portraiture. Although it took time before I dared to ask the artists for permission to portray them.

-You accompanied the exceptional critic Miguel Acal for years. How do you remember that experience?

-We both worked in a radio station in Seville. He knew about my love of photography and we began to collaborate on various publications. First of various themes and later focused on flamenco.

-In your photographs you capture moments in which time is paralyzed, how do you manage to capture that flamenco duende with your camera?

-With much enthusiasm, dedicating time, hobby, and perhaps daring … but of course learning to see the scene. I started by taking black and white photos. They were dramatic, powerful,  close-ups. Many festivals with performances by leading figures …… Until I discovered dance thanks to color.

-They say that he has been the only photographer who has managed to make Camarón handsome because due to his gestures, the reality is that some snapshots, let’s say they detract from him… What can you tell us about the photographs you took of this artist?

– Honestly, in those first years when I discovered Camarón I was totally frustrated because I didn’t get any good image. His staging was so dramatic; writhing, gesticulating… terrible.  Until I found out that he was like that and I should study his performances and watch out for moments to freeze the image. It was hard for me, but in the end I have a good collection of this great singer.

– After so many years in the world of photography, you have gone through different periods – black and white, photographs overflowing with drama, color in female dance … – Which series have you enjoyed the most?

-It’s as if he were asking me which son I love the most. There have been so many moments, so many experiences that I have tried to feel them at every moment … Shooting my camera, developing negative or paper, in exhibitions, in the edition of my books. When you are an age like me, the road has been long.

-If you had to stay with a singer, a guitarist and a bailaor, what names would you give?

-That would be impossible for me. I have photographed thousands of artists. Turning your question around, I can give you some names of artists that I would have liked to photograph and that I have not been able to.

-Well, then, who did you want to photograph with?

-Well, I wanted to make a portrait of Paco de Lucía, posing for me. I tried but couldn’t. Of course, I was able to do many acting, also to artists who by age I did not know, such as La Niña de los Peines, Vallejo, Marchena, Antonio Chacón, Pericón and others.os grandes de su época.

-I don’t think there is an administration or institution that has as many photos of flamenco artists as you, how have you managed to become the greatest portraitist in the world of flamenco?

– I believe that by insistence. As they say in Cádiz; “By jartible”. I have to admit that I have achieved a certain prestige as a portraitist, but it is that it has been a part of photography that has fascinated me and in which I feel very comfortable. Meeting people and connecting with them through the gaze for me is a special act, because when I portray I seek to meet the eyes of my characters.

-What is that snapshot that you keep with special affection? 

-After having made more than 500,000, you will understand that I am not able to answer you. Each of them has had a certain importance for me.

-What would you recommend to a photographer who wants to get into flamenco photography?

– The essential thing is to feel an attraction for that music. I never took football photos because I don’t have a hobby. Once you see performances or shows of this genre, what you have to do is apply your knowledge to this topic. You have to learn photography, the technique and apply your knowledge and your attitudes. Taking lots of pictures is essential. Now it’s cheap thanks to digital. When I started, the first thing you did is calculate the costs of negatives, developer, positives, slides, etc. You have to take a lot of photos and find your own style.

-The exhibition of your works that the House of Culture of Benalmádena is hosting these days is part of El Color in flamenco dance, what will those who visit it find?

-This exhibition belongs to my encounter with dance, especially with women and the use of color. Most are made with slides and more recent ones are digital. Many of them looking for detail: hands, feet, shawls … Ultimately focusing the gaze on a part of the body.

-Currently, do you have a project in mind? 

-Well, trying to move the 8 or 10 exhibitions that I have, because after the time of the pandemic and the lack of activities these almost two years it has been terrible. I would like that too find sponsorsto undertake a new collection of my Bailaoras, which I performed about 10 years ago.

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