Early in 1839, when the scientist Francesc Aragó, a native of Roussillon, presented Daguerre's great invention in Paris, there was a large group of Catalans living in the city, attracted by the breeze of modernity to be experienced there. Their interests were very varied, from their studies to politics and science, amongst others. Some of them could not resist the appeal of the daguerreotype and became captivated by this new way of representing the world. From then onwards, to a lesser or greater degree, they would actively participate in the dissemination of this technique in Catalonia and throughout the rest of Spain.
The exhibition, Photobook Phenomenon, organised by the Contemporary Culture Centre of Barcelona (CCCB) and the Foto Colectania Foundation, is based on a very specific medium, the photobook. It revisits the history of photography and re-examines the medium itself. The photobook occupies a central place in contemporary photography since it is a natural home for photography, and consequently the medium through which a particular history is told through images. It is, furthermore, a well-known format that has seen notable growth over recent years.
In 2001 Tom Sponheim, a tourist from the USA, bought around a hundred black and white negatives, of what appeared to be European cityscapes, at Barcelona's Encants flea market for just over three euros. Upon his return to Seattle he scanned them and it became clear that they had been taken by someone with great talent, but someone whose identity was unknown. It was not until the definitive emergence of social media, such as Facebook, at the end of the first decade of the 21st century that Tom Sponheim saw that it might be possible to identify the photographer who had taken these pictures. And he succeeded. It was not easy to start with. He had to resort to advertising his Facebook page, "The Lost Photographs of Barcelona", but it paid off. On 12 January 2017 something important happened. Carles Cols, a journalist at El Periódico newspaper, took up the mantle with an article entitled, "Search for photographer deserving praise". The article finished with these words, "The search is on for the photographer who took these wonderful pictures. Whoever it was deserves praise, both here and in Seattle. If we are lucky, the search will continue". The story, which is reminiscent of the one about John Maloof and the discovery of Vivian Maier's photographs, did continue, with surprising results.