Catalonia’s National Art Museum hosts first-ever Joan Colom’s photography retrospective
The National Art Museum of Catalonia (MNAC) hosts the retrospective ‘I work the street’ dedicated to photographer Joan Colom. It is the very first time an exhibition presents all of the artist’s works, amongst which are many previously unpublished images. From the 12th of December 2013 to the 25th of May 2014, visitors will be able to see 500 pictures, notably Colom’s most iconic images: black and white photos secretly taken in Barcelona’s Raval in the 1960s. His feature stories from the 1990s are also presented to the public. Colom’s donation of various photographic materials in 2012 enabled such a comprehensive exhibition to take place. The Director of the MNAC, Pepe Serra, said the exhibition was unusual in many aspects.
Barcelona (ACN).- The National Art Museum of Catalonia (MNAC) hosts the retrospective ‘I work the street’ dedicated to photographer Joan Colom. It is the very first time an exhibition presents all of the artist’s works, amongst which are many previously unpublished images. From the 12th of December 2013 to the 25th of May 2014, visitors will be able to see 500 pictures, notably Colom’s most iconic images: black and white photos of ordinary people, secretly taken in Barcelona’s Raval in the 1960s. Colom, who was born 1921 in Barcelona, belongs to a generation of photographers who sought to “redefine the language of photography in Spain during the second half of the 20th century”. The curators of the exhibition explained that with his “random, serialized, and dynamic photography, Colom had been a great contributor to the ‘Avant-garde’ photographic movement”. However, visitors will not merely see his early works, but also the artist’s feature stories from the 1990s. Colom’s donation of various photographic materials in 2012 enabled such a comprehensive exhibition to take place. During the presentation, the Director of the MNAC, Pepe Serra, said that the exhibition was unusual in many respects, since, apart from the “famous pictures on prostitution” in Barcelona’s Raval (called Chinese neighbourhood at the time), “Colom’s work remained relatively unknown”.
Pepe Serra unveiled that the total cost of the exhibition amounted to €307,000. He then praised “the efforts and the work” of the two curators who had made it possible to display the works in just a year and a half, starting immediately after the artist had donated the works to the museum. “This exhibition is not conventional in any way and marks a turning point in narrating stories of artists like Colom” explained the director of the MNAC.
Meanwhile, the curators of the exhibition have stressed that the most “famous” series of photographs - the pictures taken on the streets of Barcelona’s Raval, which are amongst the masterpieces of twentieth century photography - “are only a small part of the exhibition”. However, they acknowledged that they were at the core of the artist’s work.
In fact, the exhibition spans the entire lifetime of the photographer. The oldest images on display date back to 1957 while the most recent one was taken in 2010.
One of the curators, Jorge Ribalta, said that the exhibition actually tells three different stories. Firstly, the story of Colom’s photographic work; secondly, the story of Spanish photography in the 50s and 60s; and, finally, the story of life in public places in Barcelona over the past 50 years.
Joan Colom and ‘Avant-garde’ photography
Colom, who was born 1921 in Barcelona, belongs to a generation of photographers who sought to “redefine the language of photography in Spain during the second half of the 20th century”. With his “random, serialized, and dynamic photography, Colom was a great contributor to the ‘Avant-garde’ photographic movement”, along famous other artists such as Henri Cartier-Bresson or Man Ray. According to the curators of the exhibition, Colom’s work represents both the “climax and the ending” of this innovative movement.
The Catalan photographer was distinguished many times for his work. He was awarded the National Photography Prize by Spain’s Ministry of Culture in 2002, the Golden Medal for Cultural Merit by the Barcelona City Council, and the National Visual Arts Prize by the Catalan Government.
The most comprehensive donation to the MNAC
In 2012, the artist donated some of his photographic material to the MNAC, a gesture which would enable the museum to host a retrospective. According to the curators, the donation was one of the most comprehensive received so far. It included negatives, finished and working copies, 9,000 of which are on paper and 1,000 in black and white. And so, for the very first time, an exhibition presented the complete set of Colom’s works. Such a retrospective includes his early photos from the 1957-1964 period, for which he became famous, as well as his later works, dating mostly from the 1990s onwards, that were generally unpublished.
The early works foreshadow future iconic street scenes
The first set of images from the exhibition (1957-1960) are essentially photographs of Easter week festivities in Barcelona. The Catalan artist took pictures of sailors and ‘compliments’ which foreshadow his work in the Raval neighbourhood.
The exhibition then displays works from the 1960-1964 period, when the artist belonged to ‘El Mussol’ (The Owl), a group of eight photographers from Barcelona and Terrassa (North-west of Barcelona).
Street scenes, taken in secret, at the core of Colom’s work
The core of the exhibition portrays the famous Barcelona street scenes, mostly taken \u200B\u200Bwith a hidden camera: Colom usually took the photograph without looking through the viewfinder, holding the camera in one hand, below the waist. Thanks to these works, Colom achieved international recognition, as one of the greatest photographers of the time. This section is made of several sets, the most significant being the series of 50 photographs first presented in 1961, in the exhibition entitled 'El carrer' (On the street).
These core images are organised thematically, starting with children and people on the streets and continuing with prostitutes in the so-called ‘Chinese neighbourhood’ (in the Raval area of Barcelona).
Later works also presented
After these iconic pictures, the exhibition displays photographs of Paris. The authorities responsible for French tourism in Barcelona had asked Colom and other photographers to take pictures of the city. These images date back to 1962.
Between 1962 and 1964 Colom worked closely alongside another Catalan photographer: Ignasi Marroyo. The exhibition highlights his activities for El Correo Catalan newspaper, the ‘Somorrostro’ feature story (former slum in Barcelona) and his project on a book about bullfighting, which was ultimately unsuccessful.
Finally, the MNAC retrospective presents the artist’s later works, executed from 1977 to 2010. All the different sections of the exhibition display album pages with reproductions of unfinished works in black and white. Colum’s colour photographs, taken after the 1990s, are also exhibited.