Fiesta de las Modistas. Barcelona, 1933
A good photojournalist is part artist, part reporter and part magician. He needs to be both compassionate and impartial at the same time, to both accurately record and to empathise with the circumstances of the subjects at which he aims his camera.
An extraordinary show of 300 photographs proves Josep Brangulí to be all of these things. It also affords the viewer the opportunity to view Barcelona during the most dynamic period of its history: the first half of the 20th century, when it was both running away from its pre-industrial past and trying to avoid the inevitability of its Fascist future.
Culled from the half million images that have been part of the National Archive of Catalunya since their acquisition from the photographer’s heirs in 1992, Brangulí’s images tell the story of a city in the throes of metamorphosis.
There are views of long-lost ghosts of the past, some lamented (the tram system in the Twenties), and some less so (shanty towns lining the beach at Somorrostro). Some views are unrecognisable (the construction of Avinguda Diagonal through an unpopulated wasteland) and some remarkably the same, such as Brangulí’s views down the narrow streets of the Gothic quarter.
He was there for the historic moments too: the creation of the Second Republic, Nazi flags draped over the Estació de França and the 1929 opening of Mies van der Rohe’s ultra-modern Pabellón.
The photos that give the exhibition its soul, however, are the images of the people of Barcelona: Christmas Day swimmers at the port, a gaggle of joyful dressmakers in the rumble seat of a jalopy. And the city’s downside: a school for the blind, plump babies with sunglasses being radiated in the ‘pink wing’ of a solarium for the children of unwed mothers, or the views of shockingly young workers in factories that make ice, gypsum, ribbon.
My favourites are Brangulí’s purely beautiful images of historic Barcelona: an all-white ‘milk bar’ or the chiaroscuro night time view of the Bar Canaletas, its staff theatrically posed, staring through its open doors like players in an opera.
Until October 23rd, 2011. CCCB