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Gracias por su visita: A no-frills photography project about the Spanish tortilla

10 August 2020

‘Gracias por su visita’ , a photography project and zine after my no-frills heart, emerged out of British photographer Joseph Fox and designer Lizzie Frost’s desire to create something that was simple and fun, and a way to connect with Madrid, Joseph writes… 

When we moved to Madrid, we quickly adopted the ritual of going for cañas where our compulsion to photograph the ever-present pincho de tortilla was born. It was a way of interaction, reflection and documentation of a day-to-day experience that, in recent years, has become threatened by globalisation. 

This elemental dish captured against the bars’ worn tiled, marble or wooden interior walls focusses on the Spanish tortilla de patatas as a symbol of Spain’s fiercely defended food culture in a city caught politically and stylistically between the old world and the new.

When we first arrived in Madrid in 2017, we found that small neighbourhood bars were a great way to immerse ourselves in the day-to-day life here, and to observe and learn the eating patterns and rituals of our new neighbours. We loved the mixture of people that frequent them, of all ages and backgrounds, who came to enjoy a pincho, a caña or a vermú together. 

We quickly realised that the atmosphere and decor of these bars was something special and unique – it’s where Spanish culture is rooted and thrives. The Spanish tortilla feels as though it mirrors these bars; it’s a cheap and no-frills dish suitable for any time of day that is so much more than a sum of it parts.

Cooked through or melting in the middle – onions or no onions – tortillas vary slightly from bar to bar but always feel essentially the same. And it’s true that, for us, a large part of the appeal of these bars is an imagined nostalgia or romanticism for a Spain we may never really have known. What seems to be happening in much of the world is that many traditional neighbourhood places are closing, and a homogenisation of taste and style is invading. But these bars are the resistance to this change and the tortilla is their survival in edible form. 

Beyond aesthetics, there is also something about the price and familiarity of these bars that makes them so accessible and multi-generational, and this is worth holding on to. 

In the end, we photographed (and ate!) over 80 tortillas. We always explained briefly what we were doing and generally found everyone to be very relaxed about it. Reactions ranged from those who didn’t care what we did as long as we paid for the tortilla and those who seemed to find it all very amusing, to those who would proudly offer us the tortilla entera to photograph or add extra garnishes to the plate, and then inquire keenly if we had enjoyed it. 

The repetitive nature of the images is intentional. They’re designed to reflect the omnipresence of the dish and to amplify the repetitions we found in the decor. Certain tables, tiles and materials became motifs throughout the project, and of course, the “Gracias por su visita” paper napkins found on every table in every bar are a natural choice for both the name and the cover of our project.  

Here’s a selection of some of the images featured in our brand-new zine…

 

Our top three recommends for the best tortilla de patatas in Madrid are:

In a time as uncertain as this, where over 45,000 bars, restaurants and hotels have already closed since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, we hope that this booklet doesn’t simply become an archive of what Madrid has lost, but rather that it goes some way towards preserving these uniquely Spanish spaces that have come to define the Madrid that we love.

INFO

  • Article written by British photographer Joseph Fox and graphic designer Lizzie Frost, who both share my love for Madrid’s no-frills bar.
  • You can purchase their magazine Gracias por su visita here, where there are over 68 pages celebrating the Spanish tortilla. You can contact them directly through Instagram.

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