22 October 2020
22 October 2020 - Written by Colin Pantall
There’s always someone watching. And in the case of Bar al Eusebi, the person watching is photographer Salvi Danes. He watches the visitors to the nearby prison getting a last drink at the bar, he watches the prison, he watches the city, and in a strange way, he watches himself.
© Salvi Danés, spread from the book A les 8 al bar Eusebi
The Bar Eusebi is not your typical tourist Barcelona bar. Set in a corner of the city’s Eixample district, it’s a bar that is both atmospheric and dark, with a clientele that has not come to the area to visit the Sagrada Familia or tick off the Gaudi architecture.
‘I studied in a school near the prison when I was a teenager,’ says Danes in an email exchange. ‘Eusebi was a small bar in front of the walls of the prison in Provença street, where lifelong customers mixed with prison workers, relatives who visited the prisoners, ex-convicts and convicts in the open prison regime.’
And then the bar closed. But before it closed, Danes made a series of images that documented the people who drank there, a clientele that included both locals and visitors to the Modelo Prison (which has also subsequently closed).
He photographed in true surveillance style, through a car window for the bar, from a rooftop for the prison. So it fits into a tradition of photography ranging from Kohei Yoshiyuki, Oscar Monzon and Philip Lorca diCorcia to Jules Spinatsch and Merry Alpern where the unseen photographer records the behaviour, dress, expressions, and tics of the unsuspecting subjects. It’s an ethical quagmire of a tradition, one the interested viewer can weigh against the multiple other functions of photography that the people in these images have been represented by.
Danes’ images have been brilliantly designed into a casting call of a book, more like a series of screenshots from a film like The Conversation than a traditional photobook, the images rolling off each other in short sequences that move from one gesture into the next, that focus on the faded textures of a tweed jacket, the gold rings on a gnarled finger, on hair that is swept back black and thin on top of skin that is liver-spotted and grey from too many spirits and too much wine.
The images fictionalise and heroicise the subjects, it’s a book of glances and side-eyes, people waiting for something to happen, for someone to come, for the moment to arrive. The sequences are presented in grids filled with movement; a man dressed in grey walks from a bar, looks to the street, stands on a corner. Another man in a leather jacket reaches for a lighter, glances down the street, waits for the moment to arrive.
The prison is presented from up high from the surrounding rooftops. The sienna tones (and this book is very tonal) of the rusting iron rooftops match the scarf of a weatherbeaten man who lurks behind a wall, the connection between bar patron and the prison firmly established. There is barbed wire and there are barred windows, chain link fences and rust-stained walls. Cameras are directed and mirrors reflect in the prison panopticon that Danes makes himself part of.
You also get the sense that the presence of the bar and its patrons, of lives that have routes in a neighbourhood and community is given value by Danes. There is a loss here, a loss that is accentuated by the eyes, the glances, the threadbare quality of the people and places represented in this book. This is a book about gentrification, about loss, about the ways in which life envelopes itself around a people and a place.
That loss is not without ambivalence, however. The Modelo Prison is a brutal building, one that dehumanises and divides. And the feeling that emerges from the book is that the prison is part of a system that brutalises selectively and with complete prejudice. This is a book where the view expands to link the prison walls, its design, its materials, its function to the suspicion and doubt that Danes has photographed in the expressions of the patrons of the Bar Eusebi. The people and the place are connected and it’s not because of anything anyone has done. It’s because of who they are and where they come from, it’s a place you’re born into rather than a place which your actions decide. Prison discriminates at every level and that, maybe, is what A les 8 al Bar Eusebi is all about.
A les 8 al bar Eusebi by Salvi Danés
Published by Dalpine // Designed by Gerard Joan, Martí Gasull, Salvi Danés
Softcover. 144 pages 30 x 19.9 cm // 4 different covers // Edition of 300 copies
Salvi Danés is a Spanish photographer who uses a documentary approach to capture the existing scenes he encounters, before playing with the diverse possible readings of the narratives depicted. He combines his personal projects with assignments and editorial orders. He has collaborated in photography teaching at LENS (Madrid), IEFC (Barcelona), Grisart (Barcelona), and FUGA (Barcelona).
Colin Pantall is a photographer, writer and lecturer based in Bath, England. His latest book, All Quiet on the Home Front, focuses on family, fatherhood and the landscape. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.