Joan Colom, the street photographer


Joan Colom portraied by Ignasi Marroyo. Raval, Barcelona, 1961

One of the best photographers in the history of photography in Catalonia, Joan Colom, passed away this week. Without doubt, a leading figure within the collection of photography of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.

Accountant by profession, he was self-trained and joined the Agrupació Fotogràfica de Catalunya in 1957. Taking photos with his Leica with great intuition, and often in an almost clandestine way with the camera at the height of his knees, he knew how to catch the effervescence of the street life of Barcelona with great realism.  Precisely, this realism was what earned him the recognition by the art critic Josep M. Casademont who said that he was the best graphic reporter of all times in Spain and who included him alongside other photographers of the level of Francesc Català-Roca or Oriol Maspons, in the so-called New Photography Avant-garde.

Joan Colom, Untitled, 1964

Joan Colom, Untitled, undated

The collection of Joan Colom at the Museu Nacional

The links of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya with Joan Colom began in 1999 with the preparation of a first exhibition El Carrer. Joan Colom a la Sala Aixelà, 1961 (The Street. Joan Colom in the Sala Aixelà) which included part of the work carried out in the Barri Xino, then a depraved neighbourhood of Barcelona.

Joan Colom, Raval (Barcelona), 1958

Joan Colom, Raval (Barcelona), 1958

In 2012, Joan Colom made a donation of his whole collection to the museum, becoming in this way, one of the most important authors of the collection. As the director of the museum, Pepe Serra, recalled in a post of this blog Joan Colom, photography made narrative, “on 6 February 2012, just one month after beginning a new period as Director of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, I had my first meeting with Joan Colom. In July of that same year, his complete archives entered the museum as a donation by the artist and, only one and a half years later, in December 2013, we inaugurated a major exhibition of all his work, the most public and visible part of a large project that culminated with the publication of the book-catalogue of his fund” .

Joan Colom’s archive at the Museu Nacional

The museum technicians with the Joan Colom’s archive

Colom had always defined himself as a collector of his own images, and with the donation, more than 9,000 photographs, with their respective negatives, and an 8 mm film, arrived in the museum just as he had organised his personal archive.  Hundreds of albums classified by geographical topics such as, for example, the  Raval, la Rambla, and la Plaça Reial; of more specific topics such as children, humble people, kids, beggars, and also more abstract topics such as love, shape and landscape, or sadness and violence. A totally vital archive that lets us understand and study the whole works, and at the same time, complexity, of this author as well as the city life of Barcelona at the time.

Joan Colom, El Raval, 1958

Joan Colom, Untitled, undated

Following the generous donation of his collection, the museum began the task of studying this heritage so as to highlight its value and place it at the disposition of specialists, and scholars and to open it up to the society.   

I work the street”, anthological exhibition

Joan Colom with Pepe Serra during the presentation of the exhibition

The exhibition room

The first exhibition of this focus was the anthological exhibition in December 2013 I work the street. Joan Colom, photographs 1957-2010, which was commissioned by David Balsells and Jorge Ribalta, also curators of the exhibition of 1999. This exhibition covered a whole life through the lens, from the already iconic images of the Barri Xino neighbourhood, to other unpublished ones that allowed many visitors to get to know the work of Joan Colom.  The curators also paid special attention to his salon-style beginnings, as well as his participation in the creation of the Grup El Mussol, along with Jordi Munt, Enric Garcia Pedret, Ignasi Marroyo, Josep Albero, Antoni Boada, Josep Bros and Jordi Vilaseca, or at the same time his trip to Paris in 1962, invited by the official service of French tourism in Barcelona, that he did with Oriol Maspons, Eugeni Forcano, Ramon Masats, Xavier Miserachs and Gabriel Cualladó.

Joan Colom, París, 1964

Joan Colom, Hotel Ritz, 1960

The exhibition also dealt with the brilliant participation in the book Izas, rabizas y colipoterras, that the publishing house Lumen published in 1964 with texts by Camilo José Cela and the photographs of Joan Colom, as well as all his later work from 1977 to 2010, in which colour was already incorporated.  Precisely, it was as a result of the publication of Lumen, and the legal action taken by one of the women who appeared in the images, that led to Joan Colom deciding to give up the camera.  It wouldn’t be until the 1990s that he would once again pick up the camera and start taking photos of the street again, with the exception of some specific occasions, such as the demonstrations of 1977.

Joan Colom, Untitled, 1958 (2013 printing)

The exhaustive catalogue

The second part of this highlighting of the value of the artist and his work, was the production of a publication that includes the volume of his artistic production from 1957 to 2010.  In total the book includes more than 700 images, many of which unpublished. It includes an interview with Joan Colom done in 1998.

Catalogue cover

Joan Colom’s photo album reproduction

It was a magnificent opportunity to reproduce, just as his archive conserves, some pages from his albums, which allow us to see the way in which he worked and organised the photographs, as well as the codification he used and, in some cases, the reframing that the author carried out.

Recognition and acknowledgement

Throughout his life, Joan Colom received the National Award for Photography in 2002, the Gold Medal for Cultural Merit of Barcelona City Council in 2003, the National Visual Arts Award in 2004, and the Cross of Saint George in 2006.

Joan Colom during the ceremony of his archive donation to the museum, in 2012. Photo: Marta Mérida

From the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya we would like to reiterate our gratitude to the artist and his family for their generosity towards the museum, and the will to continue working on the research, conservation and diffusion of his collection.

His photographs will always remain present in our memory.

Related links

I work the Street. Joan Colom, photographs 1957-2010

Pepe Serra. Joan Colom, Photography made Narrative

Joan Colom. Portal de Fotografia a Catalunya


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