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This year’s PHotoEspaña Photography and Visual Arts Festival is all about “Place” — a nebulous theme but an apt one, considering the many ways photographers are documenting our planet’s fragile state and also the geographic breadth that the festival itself has been cultivating. Now in its 11th year, PHE08 runs through July 27. This week at a press preview, a cadre of other journalists and I have been bouncing around festival venues throughout central Madrid — other shows will be staged in Cuenca, Spain; and Lisbon and Algarve, Portugal. Altogether 69 exhibitions will feature work by more than 250 artists, and a highly diverse group at that.

So a broad theme such as “Place” is both unifying and diffusing. The main concern seems to be mankind’s tenuous relationship with the Earth. This informs the concerned documentary work of the collection’s grand master, W. Eugene Smith, whose shots of industrial waste and demolition blasts counterpoint his social essays on demonstrating workers and rural doctors. A retrospective of Smith’s work provides a historic backdrop for the festival at its headquarters in Madrid’s Teatro Fernán-Gómez Cengtro de arte.

Other shows incorporated the concept of place tangentially, by focusing on one locale that is imbued with human drama: The most powerful example is by Spanish and Magnum photographer Cristina Garcîa Rodero (whose “Las tres llamas” is above).