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Guillem Valle

States Of Identity

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Palestine, Kosovo, Kurdistan, Turkestan…

I now realize that since 2003 I have been documenting the same story only in different places.

These stateless nations, like my native (Catalonia), have struggled to be free of domination and oppressive violence and have shared with me an indelible visual story of both human suffering and strength. Somehow with time I have come to see more of the many dimensions that this story entails.

Since beginning this body of work, a more critical perspective has shaken my initial awe and admiration for the many liberation movements and militant groups that lead these people’s struggles.

I have become aware of the delicate and volatile nature of both identity and memory, and the creation of their often-angry orphan, the national myth. I have seen that oppressive states can engender national liberation movements. As these movements attain power they tend, more often than not, to exclude others and become oppressive themselves. This paradox and its exceptions have a visual nature I now wish to explore.

This essay has been produced in different countries: Palestine during the second Intifada, Kosovo during its independence declaration, Kurdistan region in Northern Iraq with the women of the PKK Guerrilla, in Chinese Turkestan photographing the ethnic Uyghurs and also in Lebanon documenting the life of Palestinian refugees. This essay has not been published yet.



I was born in Barcelona in 1983 and became interested in documentary photography at the age of 14 when I traveled to Sarajevo on an art student exchange program. At age of 16 I started to work as a freelance photographer for local newspapers. My first international story was about the anti-globalization movement’s response and demonstrations during the G8 summit of 2001 in Genoa. While still a student at the Institut d’Estudis Fotogràfics de Catalunya, I traveled to Palestine on two occasions between 2001 and 2004, to photograph the Palestinian Intifada.

I started to work with El País in 2003, all the while maintaining a personal agenda, developing a body of documentary work on socials issues here in Spain. Since 2006 I have gone to Lebanon to cover such themes as: the war between Israel and Shiite militia Hezbollah and the conflict between Fatah Al-Islam and the Lebanese army in Northern Lebanon. These images mark the beginning of my collaboration with Sipa Press New York as a distributed photographer.

In the course of 2008 I have covered Kosovo independence, as well as beginning a body of work on the PKK in Northern Iraq and the Uygur minority of the Xinjiang region of North-western China.


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Guillem Valle


Editor’s Note: Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

30 thoughts on “guillem valle – states of identity”

  1. Some interesting photographs here. But it does look like you had a bunch of photos and came up with a theme to try and tie them together into an essay. And I don’t think you succeeded.

    And please, lose the “music” that plays along with the essay. It is annoying, rather than enhancing the “drama” of the essay (which I guess is what you wanted it to do).

  2. it seems that Paolo Pellegrin did more “damage” than good…
    ( tongue/cheek combo:)))
    but really… we do have one Paolo already… originality is missing…
    people, please dont turn Paolo into another cliche pleaaaaaseeeeeee!

  3. Great, Great, Great.

    I love this work – Don’t care if it imitates anyone because to me it so soooooo good. I am drawn to the dark creative side of the images and love the treatment given, the contrast and the shadows from a photographic point of view.

    No one has a monopoly on greatness. Guillem – you will continue to evolve. Phase I involves being technically competent to produce something that you think is beautiful or tells a story or both. Phase II involves adaptation to your own style and personality. Most of us don’t hit Phase I and that’s the reality of it.

    When I view a burn essay (or other photographic set) I tend to hope that the images will hold my attention without needing to read the textual commentary. Many of those of recent times, at least for me, have needed the commentary but your essay speaks volumes without knowing the names / scenarios / or environments of the individuals.

    One thing I wonder for the future – is there a contrasting chapter to this essay which would contrast western societies. Maybe not. This will ultimately be up to you.

    You are a talented individual and I really hope to come across your work in the future. Good luck. Congratulations on being published here and best wishes for the future.

  4. Lot of darkness here. I think you did right to merge these stories together, they seem to be parts of this big whole you’re trying to capture. I want more (or none) of those arranged photographs like number 02.

  5. I agree that it looks like he is trying to string together a bunch of single photographs with inflated text – but it kinda maybe somehow almost hits the mark. The thread that ties them all together, for me, is mystery. Not the search for identity, found all over the Balkans, Caucusus, and/or Palestine, etc…

    You use a lot of charged words in your text: “oppressive, national myth, declaration, independence, militant, liberation, movement, memory, paradox, dimension” – and I don’t get all [or even some] of that from many of these. #8, #12, #18 are there, but many others fall considerably short.

    However they are all technically spot on and well crafted digital images. And it’s all pertinent, relative stuff. Keep pushing it, and look up Andrew Mueller, an Aussie ex-rock & roll journalist turned foreign coorespondent based in London – you two must have crossed paths, if not already shared a fixer. The guys hilarious, and has a great POV on this (these) subject.

  6. John Pitsakis

    Congratulations Guillem for your publication on burn.

    This is a solid essay in the photojournalistic tradition. Great individual images and a consistent approach to your subject matter. Technically the images are very good and some of them (eg No 8) with ingenious perspective.

    However originality is missing. I wonder whether it is even possible, when an issue that has been covered so extensively is being handled with the same high contrast-black and white-grainy imagery. It still works obviously but does it stand out? In view of your very young age individuality should develop but a different approach might do the trick.

    And then the text. From your preface I expected a focus on the identity of the stateless peoples named or their identities’ state, neither of which I see. It would be hard to identify them without the captions. Identity is a tricky and elusive subject I think.
    One essay for four stateless identities is a bit hard. If you focus on the common aspects of the state of the four peoples’ identity (eg due to their statelessness) again the common links are missing. Do they even have any common traits? Certainly nation building involves the creation of “national myths” as has happened everywhere since the early 19th century and the emergence of the now ubiquitous nation-state. But can we see them here? It would be an immensely ambitious project that would span years. What we see is an image of how they are now and a very fragmented one that is. The only reason to be presented together is that they all have strong nationalist movements. Difficult issues I suppose.

    Anyway, well done again, hope to see more of your work in the future and I’ll definitely follow your website.

  7. Guillem, not to push an agist agenda here but I find it hard to imagine that a 26 year-old has compiled photos of this quality, poignancy and significance. You have chosen a path–or maybe that path has chosen you–that carves a deep ridge in human consciousness. I sense you already know that and intend to follow this path wherever it may lead. May you stay safe as you explore places where violence is an inescapable part of day-to-day life.

    I am not concerned about Paolo Pellegrin or any of the countless photographers who have traveled such roads before you. They do not have a patent on PJ photos like yours. If you stay true to where your passion leads you, your photographs will be authentically your own.

    Because this particular essay is made up after-the-fact, so to speak, its cohesion is fragmentary at times. But if you now refine your focus and start taking photos with a very specific theme or intention in mind, I believe your work will soar. Even now I sense the development of a unique personal authorship in your images. Of course your vision and skills with evolve over time; they do for all of us who commit ourselves to this work. I look forward to following your journey.

    Congratulations on being published here on Burn.


  8. This paradox and its exceptions have a visual nature I now wish to explore.

    Not sure if you have pinned that down yet, with these pictures. A difficult theme to bring about visually, that is to show contradictions inherent to any liberation for all ending with power-grabbing by a few (and unlike Peress’s TELEX IRAN, the knowledge that it is what is happening, not just personal impressions, must be derived from the images) .

    Also,One definitely politically incorrect for the regions to cover, if avowed. You are to be commended for attempting it.

    I like your photos, many are very strong, visually, and that’s what it’s all about. IMO, to much stuff presented here on BURN do not pass that test. Yours do in flying colors… Er… B&W!

    Jim may have a point, I am not sure. This may not be the ultimate format the pictures and some text will be published, so the slideshow effect might work against it.

    If not taken as dismissive but as a critique, Panos’s words are worth pondering about (Pellegrini, and what style is “in” these days).

  9. Beautiful. Really. I’d love to see this in color, but beautiful in black and white. Powerful story.

  10. High quality work, and a very interesting topic. You could have chosen to focus on just one of the stories, that would be easier, many photographers would have stopped there. but you want to tell a larger story. I like that, it is so important that photographers try to draw some lines, not only show fragments.
    But I am wondering if this reportage would work better if you did not mix all the stories togheter like you do here. I can see it as an exhibition, where you present the different stories one by one. Because now I miss a link, even though you sort of present it in the text. I would really love to see this exhibition!

    I love some of the pictures, like no 2, 4, 6,8,16.. The opening birds-in the sky picture is beautiful of course, but that one I have a feeling we might have seen before… ;-)

    Go on and you will go far. Thanks for sharing!

  11. I’m not sure exactly why people are saying this is a derivative of Paolo Pellegrin — maybe because of the vignetting style? I hope not because I will be accused of being derivative as well, as I do the same since being introduced to a Holga. I’m sure there are many others who employ the same technique.

    Anyway, regardless of all that, I think these images are wonderful. Yes, as an essay it’s tied together rather loosely to some degree, but I think it works and don’t mind in the least.

    I find it interesting that it almost seems people are being more critical of this essay than ones far less deserving of publication IMO.

    I’m surprised to see this photographer is so young, and I would say he is definitely on the right track.

    I really love this set

  12. I have to admit that when I saw the first 3 images I also thought of Pellegrini right away….but like Tommy said above, no one has the monopoly of greatness. Are ALL the great photographers in history so completely different from each other? I think you have started your own path, and that path is, for the moment, parallel and very close to that of other photographers. But man, you are 26…if you continue with that enthusiasm and commitment to your work, you’ll sooner or later find your own way.

    Magnífic treball Guillem, segueix així!

    Ps: I also would have loved to see these in color.

  13. Strong idea. Not a fan of the vignetting or using wide lens to distort perspective. Compositions weak, most images lack focal point. I agree with Jim, lose the music. Keep working, study the masters for composition, think of balance.

  14. I really really liked this pictures. I think so many of them were stellar. But I do have to echo the comment of a stronger theme connecting them all, I would love to see individual essays on each crisis you covered, instead of a blanket essay that looks more like a badly edited portfolio. I liked the music though, but I think if you are going to go multimedia, you should do some on the ground recordings as well.

    All the best


  15. I really love this essay. Truth that is a long term project and is difficult to resume and explain all the parts just in one essay but I think is really well done and it has great images. Congratulations for publishing. You deserve it! Keep going on!

    All the best.


  16. frank Michael

    I really liked this essay. Well done. I loved #8. I think there would be some merit to see these in color. You have a great career ahead of you. Congratulations.

    All the best,


  17. By the way.. As I sadly see, people are more worried about visual and technical aspects thatn the subject. I think this is the main problem of photojournalism nowadays. We love to talk about black and white, colour, this or that style, grain or not grain, music…. come on! anyone cares about the subject? No one is saying nothing about the story….

  18. No one is saying nothing about the story……….it covers too broad an area to really be a story more like a summary in a school history book. A few “facts”,photos to accompany and a underlying message saying if you want to know more please research………..stuff on the site surpasses this offering

  19. Finally!! I don’t even care what the subject is as long as its real photojournalism. I was really getting weary of all these posed and set-up shots “portraying reality”.

    Seeing the REAL reality is a breath of fresh air after all that suffocating garbage. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  20. Nice work! but a difficult subject matter. you got the eye and the feeling to work on this kind of projects, and i admire that! will certainly fallow your work.

  21. There are some beautiful images here. Some images and themes do remind me of Pellegrin but to me this does not distract from the work. To me this project is a loose essay, a collection of photographs on a theme that are related but different. I don’t mind traditional photo essays that tell a story from beginning to end, but I also enjoy projects like this, that may not tell a complete story but do convey a feeling and mood and make you want to learn more about the subjects.

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