Fotografia a Catalunya


11.01.2016 — 17:05

La Tribuna, the first Catalan illustrated newspaper

Teresa Ferré. Observatori de la Vida Quotidiana

Front page of La Tribuna. Wednesday 10 April 1912 © City of Barcelona Historical Archive

In 1904 a newspaper made the pioneering decision to illustrate its pages with the inclusion of photographs. The newspaper was the British Daily Mirror, founded a year before by the press magnate, Alfred Harmsworth, and intended for a female readership. It quickly became an illustrated newspaper for everyone. The formula worked and was followed by L’Excelsior in France (1910) and the Illustrated Daily News in New York (1919), which would soon change its name to Daily News.

The inclusion of photographs in newspapers was a new experience and started early in Catalonia when La Tribuna, which had been founded in 1903, was acquired by Joan Pich i Pon in 1911. Until then this newspaper, published in Spanish and of liberal tendencies, contained no photographs, but did contain the occasional drawing.

The first reference to a peculiar "photographer" dates from 1905 when the Gente Conocida, or Famous People section, which was published irregularly and illustrated with caricatures was credited to “Bagaria de Paturot, photographers”. From then until 1911 drawings were published very intermittently, and sometimes none would appear for months.

The change to photography was a spectacular one. The front page was designed around photographs and sometimes a photograph would cover the entire front page. Some of the inside pages too would contain photographs. The aim was clear, to promote the 'universal' graphic form of information, proof of which is the fact that on many days the pictures were not of Barcelona, nor even of Catalonia. 

If we look at the photojournalists who worked for the paper we should note that the photographs were, from the very beginning, credited with the name of the photographer with the addition “of La Tribuna”. During the first few months there were two photographers, Josep Brangulí and Josep Maria Sagarra. Pictures from abroad were credited to Baguñá and Cornet, which indicates that it might also have operated as an agency. But during the course of 1912 the name Vidal became established until, in November 1912, José Vidal left for Madrid, where he continued his work as a correspondent by taking photographs of general interest and where he became one of a group of photographers who covered the royal family.

Joaquim Soler Moreu, from Mataró, took over from him and for two years he was the newspaper's lead reporter covering information concerning Barcelona and, occasionally, other places in Catalonia if the situation so demanded, his work being credited as "From our own special correspondent". On 2 March 1914 Josep Badosa appeared with some photographs of a bull fight and soon afterwards his credit would also include the name of the newspaper, but for the time being he devoted himself only to photographs of bullfights. When Soler gave up photojournalism at the end of the year to concentrate on a successful cinematographic career, Badosa became the lord and master.

La Tribuna also had regular contributors. As well as a correspondent in Madrid other contributors included Argilaga (Terrassa), Casaña (Sabadell), Vallvé (Tarragona), Barberà i Massip (Valencia), Sánchez Pando (Seville) and Lázaro (Morocco and Melilla). Prominent names covering foreign news were those of Meurisse, from Paris, and Trampus. However, neither of the photographic credits for these names included mention of the name of the newspaper.

Business went so well that in September 1913 it changed its business premises upon the launch of El Día Gráfico, a morning newspaper with the philosophy it had been loudly and regularly announcing since before the summer. The new newspaper eclipsed La Tribuna, both at the news stands of the day, and in today's books about the history of the press. El 1919 Pich i Pon sold it, and when it went back into circulation two years later it contained no photographs. It should be mentioned that, during this period, it temporarily changed its name so that between 1 November 1914 and 21 March 1915, it was called La Tribuna de Barcelona.

While both papers were in circulation the photojournalists worked for both of them and later on, in the 1920s, for those founded by the same company, Publicaciones Gráficas S.A. A very noticeable detail is that the photographs were, in general, credited. Very few were uncredited, and this was generally the case with photographs from abroad concerning the First World War.

It would seem that La Tribuna was the company's experimental laboratory as far as format and design were concerned. For example, from January 1914, the front page had a varied design and the size of the photographs was reduced slightly to make space for articles and the occasional official announcement or advertisement, or both, this being a fundamental way of raising revenue at a time when the printed press was becoming a business. After August of that year after the First World War had broken out, a new graphic element made its presence felt to the detriment of photography, the map, the precursor of present-day graphic information.

One of the most noteworthy changes, although more short-lived one, took place at the end of March 1915. On 22 March a change was made to the design of the newspaper's title, part of it being published in red. This experiment in colour was applied to various photographs on following days and they appeared in red, blue and green. At the beginning of April, however, they were published in black and white again, although the red of the title would last until the following year when a photograph would once again dominate the front page, something that was maintained until September, when there was a radical change.

At stroke La Tribunas's format was reduced to the size of a magazine. The front page was reserved for a single photograph (occasionally for a drawing which always concerned the war), the number of pages was increased to sixteen (twenty-four on Sundays) and the centre spread was also reserved for photographs, as was one of the inside pages. La Tribuna took its inspiration from the Madrid ABC, the origins of which were not as a daily newspaper. It was a project born from the success of Blanco y Negro (1891), a pioneering weekly owned by the same company. ABC was founded in 1903 and went through various experiments, being published fortnightly, weekly and eventually, daily. It had the format of a magazine right from the beginning and, while it differed from the rest of the national press in these formal aspects, it set a trend, so it is not at all surprising that La Tribuna should have noticed and imitated it. The initiative did not, however, manage to improve the fortunes of the Barcelona paper.

Between 1911 and September 1919 La Tribuna was the leading illustrated newspaper in Catalonia. It was an evening newspaper and it covered most current subjects such as popular festivals, sport and items of interest from around the world. Bull fights and other spectacles were prominently featured such as theatre productions, especially so after mid-1914 when its coverage of bull fights declined, possibly because, on 2 March, El Día Gráfico started to produce a new illustrated section called Toros y toreros (bull fights and bull fighters). Despite the predictability of this light subject matter, with pictures of bathers at the beach every summer and the most spectacular float during Carnival, current events dominated its reports, such as the spectacular train crash in Mataró which was covered with a front page by Badosa on 1 September 1916 and meteorological phenomena such as the snow in Barcelona, which was covered by Soler with the front and an inside page by Soler.

Separate mention needs to be made of the graphic coverage of the First World War on account of its importance and continued presence throughout the years. The first photograph to be published was on 5 August 1914 on page five. It depicted a landscape with an aeroplane in the background. The following day the front page had a picture of Serb infantrymen on the march. Maps took the place of many photographs, but as the conflict continued photographs came to the fore again. It should be mentioned that many front pages from this time carried a single photograph of some aspect of, or person in, the war and it was not until the end of 1917 that scenes began to be published in the form of drawings on the front page and on the centre spread. However, when we talk of war photography we should forget about the iconography of modern ways of reporting conflict because, at that time, it was under construction. For example, violence and the trail of destruction were only portrayed through photographs of ruins. The first of this kind that we have found was published on 25 September 1914 and it depicts a group of houses in Charleroi after a battle. We have only seen death depicted in one of the two photographs on the front page of 28 May 1916. In the upper part of the picture there are some Alpine soldiers at the trenches behind the body of a comrade who appears to be sleeping, while in the lower part of the picture Italian soldiers can be seen inside the trenches. The other photographs are of the commanders, daily life at the front, technical advances and landscapes such as that of 17 March 1916 in which a picture of placid deserted woods tells of the battle for Verdun. The Branger and Meurisse companies, and to a lesser extent Hofer and Rol provided war coverage.

Teresa Ferré. Observatori de la Vida Quotidiana