Exhibition: The Zubiaurres - Bilbao Fine Arts Museum


The Zubiaurres

Graphic memory

BBK gallery

The Bilbao Fine Arts Museum has gathered together an extensive collection of photographs and films relating to Valentín and Ramón de Zubiaurre. The contents originate from the family and reveal the fact that these two reputed painters, in different periods of their lives, were photographers and filmmakers. More than one thousand two hundred photographs –glass plate negatives and positive prints, bound or loose– have been preserved as well as twenty-seven films.

The photographic and cinematographic collection bequeathed to us by the Zubiaurre family has a rational explanation when observed from the perspective of the social uses of photography, from a historiographical approach that offers a sound interpretation of the social and cultural phenomenon represented by the penetration of the photographic medium into the private space. A process associated with amateurism and which was key to the emergence of family life chronicles that focused, above all, on leisure and recreational activities. No satisfactory explanation can be found for the amateur practice of these two reputed painters in other traditional approaches, such as the artistic or the documentary, and, on the contrary, its reading is wholly consistent with the private uses that this family made of their photographs and films. But Ramón and Valentín were not typical enthusiasts, given that their background in painting furnished them with an extensive visual culture, an ability to look at reality and produce images far superior to the average amateurs of their times.

It must be borne in mind that, out of all of the photographs they took, it is in some albums compiled by the family in the early 20th century where we find these photographers' declaration of intent, their true photographic discourse. The four albums of their youth, dedicated to their stays in the Basque Country, build a space for family reminiscence through accounts that are a chronicle and a reminder of their activities, in tandem with forming a kind of fiction around their life. These are accounts in which enormous importance is attached to the family's place of origin and to the stories constructed there.

Because right from their earliest years, the Zubiaurre brothers showed a noteworthy passion for creating accounts with a fixed photographic image, a certain pre-cinematographic yearning that enhanced their expressive possibilities in this field with the help of the texts written by these photographers' mother at the bottom of the photographs comprising the albums. A quarter of a century later, Ramón and Valentín resumed their recording of family life using an amateur cine-camera with which they fulfilled that childish yearning to tell stories, this time through moving pictures. And the truly surprising thing is that, after such a long time, they were to film practically the same things they had photographed in their youth. There is a clear thematic, geographical and even conceptual continuity running through both productions.

Thus, through the graphic memory compiled from their photographs and films, both brothers assembled imagery that serves to link these two media to their pictorial output. Because it is all nourished by the same social, cultural and scenic reality that the Zubiaurre family frequented throughout their life and which ended up shaping the thematic universe that inspires most of Valentín's and Ramón's artistic work.


Exhibition in Garai

Coupled with the exhibition at the museum in Bilbao, and with the collaboration of the Town Council of Garai, a selection of photographs and films relating to this territory which the Zubiaurre brothers were so closely linked to is also on show. This sample (08.06.2019–04.08.2019) can be visited on Saturdays and Sundays at the San Juan Evangelista church in the town of Garai.





Valentín and Ramón de Zubiaurre were fans of photography since 1898 and of cinema since 1929. Amateur photography made it possible for the camera to become part of family life, which contributed to turning the household space into a theatre, with the emphasis fun and free time. Apart from the logistics of its artistic or documentary legitimisation, these pictures can be coherently explained from the vantage point of the social uses of photography. The family itself, their journeys, the Basque Country and stories were the main themes of this activity. It is surprising that with a film camera they shot virtually the same things as what they had taken pictures of in their youth. There is a clear thematic, geographic and conceptual continuity between both bodies of work..


Room 1. Family and training


The Zubiaurres were Basque bourgeois family living in Madrid who spent long stretches of the summer in Garai and Ondarroa (Bizkaia). Their photographs and films show a chronicle of family life which includes an extensive record of the start of both brothers' artistic careers. These pictures are also laden with meaning, as they speak to us of the symbolism of an era, a place, a social class and an artistic activity.


Projection: 'Zubiaurre house and grounds'

(Info.: c. 1929–1930. 9.5-mm film (Pathé-Baby system) transferred to digital video. Video, 15´33´´)
Views of the outside of the family home in Garai. Scenes of everyday life with different members of the family in the house's garden, along with some friends who are visiting them. It also shows the views from the Zubiaurre house, primarily the peaks of Durangaldea.

Projection: 'Land. 4'

Info: c. 1929–1930. 9.5-mm film (Pathé-Baby system) transferred to digital video. Video, 17´40´´
Scenes of the Zubiaurre family (Valentín, Ramón, Isolina, Pilar and Polín) in different places in Madrid (the terrace of their house, the Retiro park, etc.) along with several friends. Pictures of an outing to the city of Ávila and El Tiemblo (Toros de Guisando). Skiers in the snow and outings to the castles of Manzanares el Real and Mombeltrán, as well as a picnic in the countryside.

Room 2: Travels


The camera made it possible to view travel as a symbol of modernity, where the traveller's eye fills the sites they visit with their own autobiography. In this, the Zubiaurres were not so different from other bourgeois travellers who went to different sites with a camera in the early 20th century. In 1906, the family travelled through different European countries, following the pattern of the 19th-century traveller who was primarily interested in the artistic and monumental heritage. In 1929, they made extensive film reports of their travels around Spain and abroad.

Projection: 'Seville'

Info: 1929. 9.5-mm film (Pathé-Baby system) transferred to digital video. Video, 16´19´´
Journey by airplane to Seville in spring 1929, with several views of Toledo and the city of Seville from the air. Family home in this city, where they visited the gardens of the Alcázar, the Triana and Santa Cruz neighbourhoods and the Giralda. They also filmed different Sevillian residents strolling through the streets and scenes of Easter Week and the Feria de Abril. Finally, they recorded the site of the Ibero-American Exhibition which had recently opened.

Projection: 'Ávila, Toledo, Segovia'

Info: c. 1929–1930. 9.5-mm film (Pathé-Baby system) transferred to digital video. Video, 17´59´´
Outing to Ávila, Toledo and Segovia. The film shows the most important monuments in the three cities, in addition to different shots of locals on the streets where the travellers are strolling, occasionally filming each other as well.

Projection: 'Part one. Barcelona and Denmark'

Info: 1929. 9.5-mm film (Pathé-Baby system) transferred to digital video. Video, 16´36´´
Valentín and Ramón de Zubiaurre's journey to Barcelona along with their mother, their sister Pilar and her son on the occasion of their participation in the Barcelona International Expo in May 1929. Different views of the capital of Catalonia, the Expo facilities and Pueblo Español. It also shows a family trip to the monastery of Santa María of Montserrat. In the autumn of that same year, the three siblings travelled to Copenhagen for a joint exhibition they were holding in that city. The Zubiaurres can be seen visiting different sites in this Nordic capital in the company of their hosts.

Projection: 'Part two. Salamanca, Zamora and Alberca'

Info: c. 1929–1930. 9.5-mm film (Pathé-Baby system) transferred to digital video. Video, 13´43´´
Outing to the city of Zamora, where they visited the cathedral, the streets around it and the Duero River. In that same province, the travellers went to Toro, where they visited the Clock Tower and Santa María la Mayor collegiate church. The film continues with another outing to the town of Candeleda in Ávila, where the lens focused on the life unfolding on the streets of the town, the pepper harvest, an outing to mass, the climb to the hermitage of the Virgin of Chilla and Iberian pig breeding. In that same town, they made an extensive recording of the women strolling on the streets, the typical costumes of the people attending a wedding and the local dances. It also shows a picnic in the countryside with the family accompanied by a large group of friends.

Room 3: Stories


In their relationship with photography and cinema, the Zubiaurre brothers showed a clear fondness for storytelling. The majority of these stories are set in Garai and its environs and are connected to the photographic practices of their day, which incorporated some influences from Spanish academic painting. This penchant for storytelling reaches its peak when they use the film camera in around 1928. Indeed, there had been some pre-cinematic elements in many of the photographs they had taken in their youth, a tendency which would take shape in some of their films years later.

Projection: 'Grandfather's Tale'

Info: c. 1929–1930. 9.5-mm film (Pathé-Baby system) transferred to digital video. Video, 12´12´´
This film tells the story of Polín, a young boy played by Leopoldo Gutiérrez de Zubiaurre (Pilar's son), who is kidnapped by an old lady who forces him to beg for alms. The boy's family, which is his real family (his mother Pilar, his grandmother Paz and his uncle Valentín), are disconsolate over the absence of the kidnapped boy, until through a stroke of luck, Valentín discovers where his nephew is and goes with his mother to rescue him. The old lady admits her execrable act and asks for forgiveness before dying, which is told via a five-year flashback to the time when the child's caregiver shirked her duty when her boyfriend arrived, setting the stage for the kidnapping. And what had been sadness for the family is turned into happiness, for which they all thank Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

Projection: 'He Comes Happy, Sings, Thinks about…'

Info: c. 1929–1930. 9.5-mm film (Pathé-Baby system) transferred to digital video. Video, 10´07´´
This film and the next one, are part of a composition which contrasts an optimistic view of life with a pessimistic one through the Basque lands and their peoples. In the first one, Valentín provides a joyful look based on the fields, mountains, flowers, animals, seascapes, lively good friends, pretty girls, pelota games, sports by the sea, traditional dances and spirited romerías (rural celebrations).

Projection: 'He Comes Mysteriously, Speaks and Thinks about…'

Info: c. 1929–1930. 9.5-mm film (Pathé-Baby system) transferred to digital video. Video, 16´47´´
Compared to the first film, in this one Ramón focuses on melancholy landscapes, with their mystical, solitary cemeteries, solitude and death, all filmed in dark, dull tones with backlighting. The struggles end up being resolved in favour of the optimistic view of existence thanks to the love of two young peasants. 'Life is only love, look… ', says Valentín as the dark figure, Ramón, cries while being consoled by a peasant girl. The film closes with a sequence of repeated images from the triumphant vision.

Room 4: Basque Country: Photographs


The importance of this region for the Zubiaurres was quite clear, and it permeated their photographs, films and paintings. This family's affective bond with the Basque Country led them to empathetically explore a reality that they both loved, and it shaped a landscape which they filled with other meanings. For them it was a lived, photographed and painted region which introduced symbolic elements and a sense of belonging to a community into their family imagery.

Photograph album

A photograph album is much more than the sum of its parts, and the grouping of images becomes a bearer of meaning. These albums are the only work made by both brothers to interpret their photographs.

The four albums devoted to the Basque Country enable us to observe a specific constructive and thematic pattern which articulates the stories, a kind of visual itinerary which juxtaposes the territory (natural, cultural and human), the stories and the family's presence. They develop a chronicle of this family's life while also defining a related place and a space for memory.

Room 5: Basque Country. Films


Projection: 'Garai'

Info: c. 1929–1930. 9.5-mm film (Pathé-Baby system) transferred to digital video. Video, 16´07´´
Particular vision of this town in Bizkaia which begins with an image of the mountains surrounding it and continues by showing the family and some peasants praying in the Catholic tradition of the Angelus. It also shows different expressions of popular culture: a group of santzolaris, a burial, a pilgrimage, the farmhouses and fields of Garai, along with the family's walks and outings. It then shows scenes of the traditional tasks and activities in the rural world, such as the work of spinners. The film ends with Valentín and Ramón playing cards.

Projection: 'Ondarroa and Garay'

Info: c. 1929–1930. 9.5-mm film (Pathé-Baby system) transferred to digital video. Video, 17´21´´
During their summertime stays in Bizkaia, the Zubiaurres spent stretches by the sea in Ondarroa. This film captures the family fun on the beach in this town, views of the port and fishing, and their boat outings on the river. It continues with a pelota match and then goes back to Garai, where it documents a religious festival, the Saint James procession, espatadantzaris, aurresku and a dance in front of the town hall.

Projection: 'Basque Land.1'

Info: c. 1929–1930. 9.5-mm film (Pathé-Baby system) transferred to digital video. Video, 10´33´
Chronicle of one or several family outings, quite similar to the ones they made in their youth in some of their photograph albums. They visit the Navarran towns of Bera and Lesaka. In the province of Gipuzkoa, they go through Hondarribia, Errezil (where they film with Paulino Uzcúdun's mother and family), San Sebastián (with visits to Igeldo mountain and La Concha beach) and Pasaia. Back in Bizkaia, they stop in Lekeitio, where they gaze upon the views from the Santa Catalina lighthouse, and they end with views of different places in Ondarroa.

Projection: 'Basque Land.3'

Info: c. 1929–1930. 9.5-mm film (Pathé-Baby system) transferred to digital video. Video, 10´55´´
This film is devoted to two places where the Zubiaurres spent the most time in the Basque Country: Garai and Ondarroa. It also includes images of outings to Berriatua and Yzurtza. In Ondarroa, it once again shows port life and the family's outings to the river. It continues with scenes of the market in Durango and the villagers at the market. Back in Garai, the landscape, the locals doing their daily work, several local figures and the Potocoa country house, owned by the Zubiaurre family, are filmed.

Room 6: Painting

No direct –functional– relationship can be established between photography and film on the one hand and the painting process of Ramón and Valentín. However, much of what we find in their paintings is a reality we have already seen in their photographs and films, because it is all part of the family imagery constructed since their childhood, the graphic memory which they have crafted around a region which they continued to visit their entire lives, and which ended up becoming the thematic universe which informs much of their artwork.


Projection: 'Basque Country'

Info: c. 1929–1930. 9.5-mm film (Pathé-Baby system) transferred to digital video. Video, 6´41´´
Compilation of materials not used in other films, with Leopoldo Gutiérrez de Zubiaurre (Polín) as the common thread and true main character in the story. Fragments from 'Grandfather's Tale' alternate with scenes of espatadantzaris, a burial, farm work, a procession, the port of Ondarroa, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, the family in the garden of the house in Garai and on the beach, and Valentín painting outdoors