During the first decades of the 20th century, when the photographs published in newspapers and magazines began to take the pulse of street life and experiment with new formats which went beyond portraiture, buildings and landscapes, sport emerged as a favourite object of photographers' attention. In fact, the media, photography and sport bolstered each other in such as way that, arm in arm, they became three determining factors in the dawn of a new mass culture. It was at the stadia, the athletics tracks, the sports fields and the beaches that the first sports photojournalists laid the foundations for a profession that was still in its infancy. At the same time photographs of the competitions and the performances of stars that were published in newspapers boosted the popularity of sport and elevated it to a previously unimaginable height. Mass spectacle was in the limelight and the photojournalists, clutching their cameras at the playing fields, were the privileged observers and promoters of the dawn of that entirely new, semireligious universe.
The inherent dynamism of sport and the improved techniques employed by photographers with their equipment provided an impetus that led to a much less static kind of photography in which the movement of the human body began to have a prominent role. Firstly through the coverage of sports such as boxing and cycling and secondly, from the 1920s, when football, the "new obsession", as the writer Juli Vallmitjana described it, burst onto the scene.
The first sports photographs published in newspapers appeared towards the end of the 19th century and, outstanding amongst the pioneering media published in Barcelona was the weekly publication, Los Deportes (1897-1910), which included engravings and uncredited photographs on the front page and, on occasion, on one or other of the inside pages also. The magazine was founded and directed by Narciso Masferrer, one of the great promoters of sport and the sports press, who also founded El Mundo Deportivo (1906). He also directed the magazine Stadium (1911-1930), which published photographs by some of the most outstanding sports photojournalists of those early days, such as Josep Maria Co de Triola, Frederic Juandó, Ramon Claret and Antoni Vela. Founded by Ricard Cabot, Stadium, can be considered to be the first illustrated sports magazine to be published in Catalonia. It was aimed at an upper-middle class audience and announced itself as “An illustrated magazine about sport and society". As well as having an illustrated front page, it also contained sixteen inside pages full of pictures.
After 1910, and seeing how the subject was becoming ever more popular, prestigious publications such La Ilustració Catalana, also started to publish sports photographs by Josep Maria Sagarra, Enric Castellà and Frederic Ballell. From 1914 onwards, the daily El Dia Grafico also started to publish sports photographs by Josep Badosa and Joaquin Soler.
A very important qualitative leap forward was marked by the appearance of the weekly La Jornada Deportiva (1921-1925). Promoted, amongst others, by Josep Antoni Trabal, this new publication aimed, in its own words, to “Resist comparison with Europe" and its main attraction was its use of photography. The front pages had spectacular photographs and its famous Notas Gráficas inside contained a summary of the sporting events that had taken place on Sunday, with dozens of photographs taken by some of the most important photographers of the day, such as Domínguez, Gaspar, Claret, Escuder, Colomé, Maymó, Bert and Casas. These photographs made the publication an example to follow and the paper exemplified the modernising tendencies of the press at the beginning of the 1920s in terms both of its stylistic content, as well as its formal aspects. It was directed by Josep Torrens until 1923, after which it became a newspaper for a short period of time under the direction of the sports journalist, Isidre Corbinos.
The press in general, motivated by the existing demand, also adopted sports photography, the more spectacular the better. This can be seen from a letter sent in December 1922 by ABC to Josep Brangulí, its correspondent in Barcelona, “From now onwards we are going to pay great attention to the graphic information in sport. We would therefore earnestly ask you not to hesitate in sending us photographs of this kind, as long as they are of sufficient interest, and to so as urgently as possible so that they do not become outdated".
Amongst the most outstanding photographers working during those first days of sports photojournalism were, Josep Maria Co de Triola, Josep Gaspar, Gabriel Casas and Ramon Claret.
Co de Triola (1884-1965) was an all-round sportsman who practiced, promoted and depicted sport, as well as participating in the emerging journalistic associations. In 1911 he was one of the founders of the Sports Journalists' Union, an organisation which he presided from January 1919 until December 1926. A keen hiker, speleologist and motorist, he was a correspondent for Los Deportes and promoted the magazine Stadium, which he contributed to right from the early days. His work was also often to be seen credited in La Jornada Deportiva. For the daily press he was the sports editor for La Veu de Catalunya, a newspaper that also published a number of articles by him on the subject of photography.
Josep Gaspar (1892-1970) is almost unheard of today, but he was one of the stars of photojournalism in Catalonia. He trained at the prestigious Casa Gaumont and, right from the start of his career he combined photography with cinema. He covered all kinds of current events as a reporter for newspapers and magazines published in Barcelona and Madrid. In the specific field of sport he was the leading light as a photographer during the golden years of La Jornada Deportiva. He was the author of most of the weekly's front pages and he provided the photographs, which were later marketed as postcards and monographic books which used his name as an advertisement. In boxing tournaments, athletics competitions, football matches, cycling races and swimming competitions, his knowledge of cinematography always helped him find the best place from which to take a shot, even if it meant moving from place to place and dropping to the ground if necessary.
Gabriel Casas (1892-1973), on the other hand, came to sports photojournalism somewhat reluctantly. After a start to his career that had been full of doubts and during difficult times, he decided to make a living from sports photojournalism through the Foto-Sport agency, which he founded with his colleague Joan Rovira in 1923. The pair worked covering current events in Barcelona until 1930 when Rovira suddenly died. Thanks to his immense talent with the camera, Casas, who contributed to La Jornada Deportiva and L'Esport Català, amongst others, produced some unforgettable photographs, especially of football matches played by Barcelona football team during the years when they began to win cups. He also produced some excellent portraits, one of his specialities, of stars such as the footballer Josep Samitier and the boxer, Josep Gironés.
Ramon Claret (1887-1965), for his part, was one of the teachers of successive generations of sports photojournalists, from the moment his first photograph was published in Stadium, in 1912 until the last in El Mundo Deportivo, in 1961. He was a great swimmer and he also practiced rowing and sailing. He started out as a lackey, working for sports photographers such as Merletti and Brangulí, but he gradually made a name for himself amongst the professional photographers in the field. In 1920 he founded what would be a prolific company with Joan Bert, with whom he covered all kinds of sporting events. For a few years he was also associated with Josep Gaspar and monopolised the pages of La Jornada Deportiva. He was the leading cameraman for El Mundo Deportivo, for which he worked for decades.
These are only some of the names amongst all those possible to mention, Juandó, Pérez de Rozas, Mateo, and so on, because during the early years of photojournalism in Barcelona, sport was a veritable school and a way of earning a living and, at one time or another, most of the photographers working in the city before the outbreak of the Civil war also worked in this field.
Andrés Antebi. Observatory of Daily Life