Fotografia a Catalunya


28.12.2017 — 19:16

Have faith in photography

Maria Palau

Joan Colom Altemir, From de the series ​Districte 5è. Cap a 1960

We have lost Joan Colom, one of the all time greats. In twenty-five, fifty, and in all probability a hundred years, this will be the lasting memory from 2017. Everything else, or almost everything else, that happened during 2017 has a lot to do with him and his legacy. If today photography has a greater presence than ever in our cultural life, it is because Colom taught us how to think about the medium and how to esteem it. In 2017 he sent us a message for 2018 and the years to come: we must persist in demanding full recognition for photography and photographers.

2017 was the year of Joan Colom's death and as we look back over the year it is our tears that appear first, but, as we wipe them away, they are followed by our sense of infinite gratitude to this genius that our country was capable of producing during the dark night of the Franco dictatorship. Colom, a charmingly timid, humble and quietly spoken man, short in stature, has left us a huge legacy which, in itself, shows what makes a photographer, and any other artist, great: their strength and ability to transmit knowledge from one generation to another. With Colom we have, either as photographers or as lovers of photography, a special place in our hearts and minds for thinking about, and feeling the presence of, photography in a way that helps us to understand and love the world. We will miss him for ever.

And at an institutional level Colom has also taught us that, when there is the will, things can be done well. People no longer accept, "That's not possible" as an answer, and that is something we must continue to uphold, with Colom guiding the way. The photographer who revealed to us the human side of Barcelona's Raval district has died, his work being well-known and renowned. He had the satisfaction of having the great exhibition of his work in 2013, at Catalonia's acknowledged centre for the arts of all times, the MNAC, and of seeing his archive housed safely there in the full knowledge that it would be conserved, studied and disseminated by that institution.

The preservation of photographic archives continues to be a pressing issue. How many of them must be going mouldy in dirty damp garages? Joan Fontcuberta gave us a lesson about the vulnerability of photographic archives at an exhibition, held at the Àngels Barcelona Gallery, precisely about the degenerative process of photographic images at a time when their material loss distances us from the problem. But the problem exists and when something marvellous happens, as was the case with the archives of Pere Català Pic and his son, Pere Català Roca, when 15,000 photographs were safely lodged with the National Archive of Catalonia (ANC), we can all breath more easily.

Fontcuberta's magical touch can, of course, turn any creative vestige into art, but we are indebted to him above all for his critical thought, which a more ingratiating culture, one that is easily and quickly digested, attempts to hide from our view. Fontcuberta is always a couple of steps ahead of everyone. We have lived through a tense and intense year in which the concept of fake news has definitively entered everyone's vocabulary. Everyone, well, everyone except those with a memory like a sieve, knows that Fontcuberta has been warning us for a long time about the threat of post-truth. 2017 marks the twenty-fifth year since his mythical project about the fake Soviet astronaut, Ivan Istoichnikov. And what better way of celebrating that than pulling of another ruse? Oh yes, Fontcuberta has done it again, this time with a fictitious photographer from Valencia, Ximo Berenguer, fascinated by El Molino.

Ximo Berenguer turns out to be the alter ego of a visionary and tireless Fontcuberta. For the perspicacious historian of photography, Laura Terré, this fake has also revealed the mainly media-based "circus of discovering photographers" for what it is. The search for unknown names acts as bait to attract attention in headlines over six-column articles, as was also demonstrated by the case of Milagros Caturla, who has already been called the Vivian Maier of Barcelona.

The reality, always harsher and quieter, is that there are many urgent issues facing photography that do not receive even half of this media coverage, and this needs to be addressed. The National Photography Plan, approved in 2014, is the road map for doing so. There is a lot that needs to be done in the field of photography and the public administration needs to feel pressure to put initiatives into effect. It is of no use for the City Council to present a future cultural project for one of the empty trade-fair pavilions while practically ignoring photography's needs. It is a constant frustration to remember that what had once been conceived as a museum with its own specific character was later treated as a centre, and has now degenerated into a section of another museum, the MNAC.

The self-sacrificing work of the community of professionals who value photography so highly is driving the Plan forward (and here while nobody can hear us, let's be frank, there are those in other art fields who look upon us with a certain envy). In 2017 we were able to see, in fact can still see, some treasures from the National Photographic Collection. Since 2015 there have been 881 acquisitions of work by 45 photographers at a cost of €500,000. An exquisite selection from these archives, assembled with masterly criteria by Marta Dahó, hangs from the walls of the Arts Santa Mònica. The exhibition, Fotografies com a espai públic (Photographs as public space), open until 21 January, is a positive sign that while everything might be slow and difficult, nothing is done in vain.



It is true that some contribute more than others. Last year saw the opening of the new premises for the Foto Colectania Foundation, which has left its hidden little corner in a location with no history in a block of flats in a street with few passers-by in the Sant Gervasi district. The new location is at street level in the busy Born district. From now on many things will happen here and they will, in turn, help make many other things happen too. The best thing would be to encourage photographic collections, something that, even now, is not very established here. Some adventures, such as Barcelona Visions, have had to close precisely because of the small size of this market.

At Foto Colectania we have already been able to enjoy great exhibitions, starting with the inaugural exhibition, Total Records, about the creative relationship between photography and vinyl music records, an exhibition which later went to the CCCB. Then there was the Weegee exhibition, which took us to the scene of the crime in the New York of the 1930s and 1940s. At the Mapfre Foundation, a high benchmark: Peter Hujar and, above all, an imposing Duane Michals in alliance with writing. This institution, which has been presenting its programmes at the Casa Garriga i Nogués over recent seasons, has done more for the dissemination of photography, especially internationally, than many others.

The arrival of Carles Guerra as the new director of the Tàpies Foundation has produced an important change of direction with regard to content, making images the subject of exhibitions together with debates about their uses and abuses. Amongst the best proposals of 2017 Allan Sekula had a place of honour and, in first place, came the atypical Magnum agency photographer, Susan Meiselas, whom the galleries had always ignored. To a certain extent Guerra is continuing at the Tàpies Foundation with the interesting work he undertook at La Virreina during his brief directorship. La Virreina continues to be an Image Centre, but it has definitely ceased focusing on the photographic medium.


The work of the pioneer, Joana Biarnés, has been on view at the Palau Robert, the scene of some of her fashion photography; Ramon Masats returned to Barcelona where he had not held an exhibition since 2002 (we owe his return to the gallery owner, Ana Mas, who has taken photography and our photographers very seriously at her gallery in L'Hospitalet); Colita received a sincere and amusing homage from her friends at the FAD and Martha Rosler held an exhibition at the Àngels Barcelona Gallery. But, as well as Colom we have also lost Ignasi Marroyo and Josep Aznar. The lights and shades of photography in 2017 which closes with a message for 2018: have faith in photography.