Isabel Azk Generico 1010 x 400 px EN 



Turistas Palacio Topkapi


2023.12.02 - 2024.02.25

Curator: Silvia Omedes 


The exhibition, curated by Silvia Omedes (Photographic Social Vision Foundation), celebrates the generous donation of Isabel Azkarate’s archive, comprising more than 175,000 objects, including negatives and slides, cameras, catalogues and original press publications. Her collection is now in the custody of the Kutxa Fundazioa Fototeka to ensure its future conservation, study and dissemination.

This exhibition, produced entirely by Kutxa Fundazioa, which presents almost 300 copies of snapshots, many of them unpublished, taken by Isabel Azkarate between 1978 and 2006. The occasion warranted particular effort in order to recognise the work of a figure considered to be the first woman photojournalist in the Basque Country. A retrospective that showcases a major archive in terms of both the quantity and quality of its images, and which we hope will inspire citizens and researchers to consult in order to provide alternative visual readings and interpretations of our recent history.


The exhibition has been divided into 7 thematic sections:


This section features Isabel Azkarate’s earliest photos, taken in Barcelona in 1978-1979. She had moved there to study at the Centre Internacional de Fotografia de Barcelona (CIFB). Her first series at the Els Encants flea market served as a declaration of intentions and is merely the beginning of intense work to record all different lifestyles as part of an admirable exercise of empathy.

During this period, she came into contact with creators from Catalonia’s artistic movement, such as Fernando Amat, Xavier Mariscal and Bigas Luna, who opened the doors for her first professional assignments. One of these was to take the stills for the film Mater Amatísima (1980) and another a photographic report on New York City for the magazine Dunia, which became her first publication and the start of her professional career.


The American experience


On the advice of the CFIB director, Isabel moved to Rochester (New York) in 1980 to enrol in the renowned Visual Studies Workshops, where she took classes given by Nathan Lyons. She also attended other workshops at the New School and the International Center of Photography (ICP) and focused her training on street photography. The well-known photographer Lisette Model encouraged Isabel to produce several reportages in the city.

These workshops encouraged her curiosity and drove her to go out into the streets to observe and capture people in their surroundings, experimenting with the technique of colour developing or making bichromate gums. New York was undoubtedly a perfect stimulus for a woman like Isabel Azkarate, as she had always been interested in questioning the established order and examining the various identities of the people she met along the way.


Documenting the news


Isabel Azkarate returned to San Sebastián in September 1981, ready to receive assignments and work for the media. It was a time of maximum tension in the Basque Country: the terrorism of ETA and GAL, the dismantling of the industrial fabric, fierce social conflicts and general strikes, rising drug use among young people; although at the same time, a counterculture movement was developing that celebrated identity and freedom of expression. Against this backdrop, she was the first and only woman – among many male photographers – to report for La Voz de Euskadi on all kinds of topics and news between 1983 and 1985, displaying a firm commitment to the profession.

The Azkarate Collection, now owned by Kutxa Fundazioa, brings together a wide range of subjects and events that marked Basque current affairs, particularly in the city of San Sebastián. This makes it especially valuable for researching and disseminating the history of the Basque Country.

In 1984, she produced a report in Peru, accompanying José Usoz, on the activity of the terrorist group Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path).


Life in the Basque Country


Isabel Azkarate was the official photographer for Gipuzkoa Provincial Council between 1985 and 2009, which meant that she was able to attend numerous events, presentations and inaugurations with various politicians and influential people in Basque social life, as well as to travel around the Basque Country.

At the same time, she looked for occasions to enjoy photography in her free time. Throughout her life, her travels and stays with family or friends in the heart of the Basque Country would be a way of approaching reality and the apparent tranquillity of rural life. She portrayed many people she came across and was attracted to, photographing them with a great deal of respect and intimacy.


Circus: Without mask or artifice


During her time in New York, Isabel came across a family circus that opened up a whole new suggestive universe for her to explore. What interested her was not the spectacle or the artistic skills of the protagonists, but in being able to approach a new gallery of atypical, abnormal characters

Among the wagons, she found the perfect atmosphere, distance and light to photograph her new heroes and heroines: artists with open, transparent eyes who allowed themselves to be photographed at the very moment when they were stripped of their character.

The author was enriching her visual catalogue of more authentic beings she admired so much.


Art and part


Her photographic collection also includes an extensive album of portraits of the most important artists of contemporary Basque culture, some of the most intimate and carefree of which can be seen in this retrospective. As a great art lover and avid consumer of all kinds of artistic events, she follows the social and cultural life of San Sebastián from the front row.

Her archive contains an extensive catalogue of artists who are in fact close friends, with whom Isabel shares her life, challenges, weekends and a great deal of trust and intimacy.

She was the official photographer of the San Sebastián International Film Festival for more than two decades (since 1983), and it was here that she produced one of her most emblematic photographic series, which has been widely acclaimed in recent years: the last portraits of the American film diva Bette Davis.


A life, a journey


Her work for the Gipuzkoa Provincial Council (1985 and 2009) provided her with the stability to plan and carry out many trips and excursions around the world.

For Isabel, travelling and photography are synonymous with writing her own life script. The camera is a passport to the unknown and to herself. And although she often travels with a partner or surrounded by friends, she manages to maintain her personal space in order to continue photographing.

The Azkarate Collection that we are sharing in this exhibition is the result of the work of a brave and honest woman who has managed to turn her passion into a profession. Isabel’s photography responds to an essential need for constant searching and self-affirmation. What at first may have seemed an unconscious, innocent exercise has, over time, been confirmed as a genuine way of living and existing in the world. The camera for Azkarate testifies to an honest desire to recognise the other in order to be herself.



Photography: Several tourists in Topkapi Palace. Istanbul, 1992. Kutxateka / Isabel Azkarate Collection




 Isabel Azkarate (San Sebastián, 1950)


She studied photography at the Centro Internacional de Fotografia de Barcelona during the late 1970s and early 1980s and at prestigious New York institutions such as the Visual Studies Workshop (VSW), School of Visual Arts (SVA), International Center of Photography (IPC) and New School in Manhattan.



Considered to be the first woman photojournalist in the Basque Country, she has worked as a photojournalist to document harsh social and political issues, including reportages on the attacks by the terrorist group Sendero Luminoso in Peru and the daily life of the Basque conflict during the 1980s.



Her travelling spirit has led her to produce many reports in Brazil, Bali, Egypt, Nepal, Pakistan, and Turkey. For over a decade, she was also the official photographer for the San Sebastián International Film Festival, and she documented the Basque cultural scene by chronicling concerts and depicting public figures as well as famous national and international artists. She worked as a photographer for the Gipuzkoa Provincial Council and frequently collaborated with publications such Diario Vasco, La Voz de Euskadi, El Periódico de Catalunya, El País, Interviú, Tiempo, Dunia and Mujer Hoy. Her exceptionally conserved archive brings together photographs taken from her early days until now, recording thousands of people and hundreds of events. Isabel’s photography is direct, with neither filters nor prejudices, and her legacy is an ode to the diversity and nature of individuals.


She has consistently shown an eagerness to connect with the other at every stage of her life, and this has permeated her extensive body of work for more than forty years.




Guided tours

Every Sunday

at 5.30 pm in Basque and 6.30 pm in Spanish

Free admision with prior booking: T 943 251937 in the Gallery, or  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. s





Saturday, 2 December 2023 | 12 pm

San Telmo Museum

Recovering and Conserving the Archives of Women Photographers

with Silvia Omedes, curator and director of the Photographic Social Vision Foundation

The talk is part of the III Conference on Photographic Conservation organised by Kutxa Fundazioa and San Telmo Museum, which is set to take place from 29 November to 1 December 2023.

Spanish |The talk will be streamed live

Free entrance subjet to capacity | Bookings on the San Telmo Museoa website



Thursday, 1 February 2024|  6.30 pm

Ruiz Balerdi Hall |  4th floor. Tabakalera

Women Photojournalists: Recognition, Struggle and Visibility

with Isabel Azkarate, Sandra Balsells and Anna Surinyach. Moderator: Mónica Allende

Spanish | These dialogues will be streamed live

Free admission | Prior bookings on the website



Azkarate-katalogoa ISABEL AZKARATE 

LanguagesBasque, Spanish and English

Texts: Silvia Omedes and Odile Kruzeta

Pages number: 244

Publication Year2023

Price: 45€ TAX included)


Published by Blume in collaboration with Kutxa Fundazioa and Photographic Social Vision

This book is the first anthological publication dedicated to Isabel Azkarate, and it coincides with the opening of her major retrospective at the Kutxa Fundazioa. Its pages contain hundreds of images, many of them previously unpublished, bearing witness to her work as a photographer and photojournalist.  



Descard here the guide of exhibition: