Book: Carlos Saura's Vanished Spain

A new book collects the radical Spanish filmmaker's photographs of his native land, many taken in the 1950s

The Spanish film director Carlos Saura has released a photobook. Titled Vanished Spain, the book largely focuses on Saura’s black and white photography from the 1950s. It depicts a country of startling economic divergence, balanced on the border between tradition and modernity.

Shots of a rain-soaked Madrid assume the characteristics of film noir, while a chapter on Sanabria, a town in north-western León, shows people living in medieval squalor; many of the subjects died soon after, victims of a burst dam. Other sequences deal with Sunday evening dances, the slaughter of a pig and a trainee bullfight. Saura’s photographic travels served as inspiration for his first film Cuenca (1957), a documentary that critiqued the country’s traditions.

Carlos Saura is one of the most significant Spanish filmmakers of the post-war era. His early works, such as Los golfos (1960) and La caza (1966), followed Cucena’s example by radically interrogating Castilian mores. As Franco’s dictatorship headed towards its end in the 1970s, Saura became increasingly confrontational towards the regime, creating an extraordinary sequence of three films that used symbolism to conceal their director's anger.

These films were followed by Cría Cuervos (1976), often regarded as Saura’s masterpiece. Set in Madrid, it uses surrealist techniques to depict an eight-year-old girl’s ways of dealing with bereavement. Since then, he has produced a range of well-received films, highlights of which include the personal Elisa, vida mía (1977) and a trilogy of films based on ballet performances.