Fotografia a Catalunya

Jacques Léonard

Jacques Léonard


Jacques Léonard (1909-1994) had several professions, but from an early age his professional activities were related to the world of the image, specifically the cinema. He started work at the Gaumont film studios in Paris where, as an apprentice, he would come into contact with all aspects of cinema production.

He worked with various film directors, amongst them Abel Gance, with whom he worked on J'accuse, Louise and Paradis perdu. It was precisely for a film project about Christopher Columbus with this renowned French film director that he visited Spain in 1940 to search for film locations. The project never came to fruition on account of the war in Europe but in Madrid he met Manuel García Viñolas, head of the Government Ministry Cinema Service who, in the following years, took him under his wing and suggested that he go and work for Ulargui Films, where he was involved in the production of several films.

In 1949 he went to Barcelona with the businessman Arthur Kaps and became his right-hand man. Later on he would accompany the entertainer Robert Lamouret on international tours as his secretary.

Eventually, in 1952, he took up residence in Barcelona, having fallen in love with Rosario Amaya, a gypsy from the shantytown in Montjuïc. This biographical detail is of prime importance because it led to photography -not professional- but photography within the domestic sphere, that addressed a cultural area, that of gypsies, that was on the borderline of accepted ideas about Barcelona. This has resulted in what is probably the most important photographic archive to have been preserved concerning gypsies and gypsy culture in Barcelona from 1952 until the mid 1970s.

For Chac, as he was known within the gypsy community, all the doors of the shantytown were open and, despite his otherness he was welcome to take photographs from inside the community. This marks him apart from his colleagues in the new Barcelona avant-garde such as Català-Roca, Miserachs, Maspons, and others who, while they also covered the same subject matter, did so from a point of view that confirmed their position as outsiders, both sociologically and culturally. They photographed the gypsies in the shantytown in a way that stimulated a sense of paternalism, be it by denouncing conditions in the slums or by photographing scenes and events that might be considered folkloric. Léonard's photography was that of an ethnologist. He documented the gypsy people and their culture from a historical and contemporary viewpoint, and the portrayal was an absolutely dignified one.

In Barcelona it was Francesc Català-Roca who opened other doors for him through his contacts. His work was published by La Vanguardia and La Gaceta Ilustrada and he received commissions from Barcelona Provincial Council and Ferrocarrils Catalans, as well as from various professionals in Barcelona. He also illustrated books about Catalonia and the Balearic Islands. But is was Albert Puig Palau, the owner of the Barna publishing company and editor of the magazine Revista who introduced him to Barcelona society and the gypsy way of life in Catalonia.

Jacques Léonard's work forms part of the humanistic photography that was so much in vogue during the mid-20th century, but it has the added dimension of documenting a Barcelona which other renowned photographers left aside. 


1961 Les Gitans. Building Publics, Champs Elisées, París, 1961

2012 Jacques Léonard. Barcelona gitana. CALAFELL, Jordi (comis.). Arxiu Fotogràfic de Barcelona, Barcelona, .

2012 Jacqués Léonard. Pèlerinage gitan. Institut F...

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CALAFELL, Jordi ; ULLED, Jesús. Jacques Léonard: Barcelona Gitana, 1954-1974. Madrid: La Fábrica i Barcelona: Arxiu Fotogràfic de Barcelona, 2011.

CALAFELL, Jordi. Barcelona: 100 fotografies que hauries de conèixer. Barcelon...

See the bibliography