Photography was no exception. Photographers in the collection of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

Magda Juandó

As is well known, the famous question of the north American historian Linda Nochlin “Why have there been no great women artists?(1971) and her questioning of preconceived concepts by traditional historiography, paved the way for a slow recognition of women artists in general and women photographers in particular.

Colita, Terenci Moix, 1970. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
Colita, Terenci Moix, 1970. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

If we focus on the Collection of Photography of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya we can say, however, that it contains works carried out by photographers that are of exceptional beauty and quality, and that, despite all kinds difficulties that they had to overcome in general in order to learn and practise the magic of the discipline.

The collection of photography of the museum

In April 1996, after a long vindication of the Catalan photographic past, the Generalitat de Catalunya ordered the creation of the Photography Department of the National Museum. Today, the collection brings together more than 60,000 works – most of them period copies – which mainly reflect the history of Catalan photography and allow us to make a tour of the main artistic movements of the specialty: pictorialism, historical avant-garde, photographic reportage, realism, new avant-garde, neorealism, photojournalism or creative photography.

Colita, Carmen Amaya y los Tarantos, 1963
Colita, Carmen Amaya and los Tarantos, 1963

Professionals, artists and amateurs

The first works that were incorporated in the department did so thanks to the budget that the Generalitat had allocated for the first time to the purchase of photographs during the 90s of the last century.

This included the incorporation, among other things, of several examples of the activity of the renowned professional photographer Isabel Steva Colita specifically eight of them. Close to the way in which the great Catalan Masters did, Francesc Català-Roca, Oriol Maspons and Xavier Miserachs, of whom she was an assistant, Colita is today the best represented female photographer in the museum. Among her works –one hundred and sixty six of them- we can highlight the wonderful portraits of characters from the world of flamenco and her work as a photojournalist and photographer of everyday life. Linked to the Barcelona School and established as a photographer of the Gauche divine and the Nova cançó, her images remind us that for her, photography is a way of life, or in her own words: “photography is an act of possession, you click and it steals a moment from your life”.

Joana Biarnés, Filming on the film "Tuset Street", 1967. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
Joana Biarnés, Filming on the film “Tuset Street”, 1967. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

In the same way as it has been for Colita, photography has been the modus vivendi of Joana Biarnés, another great female professional photographer seen as the first graphic female reporter in Catalonia.

Biarnés trained with her father, Joan Biarnés, who was a sports photographer and from whom she learned that to make a good reportage it was necessary to capture the photo, that is to say, the image that defined the subject. Throughout her career Biarnés has been a fantastic reporter, very curious, brave, daring, and she has managed to take those photos that no one but she was able to take, such as the ones she took of the Beatles in 1965 on the occasion of their concert in Barcelona, among many other reportages. The 30 photographs of hers that are preserved in the museum’s collection were incorporated in 2015 through the National Photography Plan.

Aleydis Rispa, Griddle, Jata, 1992. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
Aleydis Rispa, Iron, Jata, 1992. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

The above mentioned first budget that the Generalitat allocated to the acquisition of photographs also involved the incorporation of a series of images – eight of them, by Aleydis Rispa. Involved in the search for new forms of expression, Rispa is a reference in the so-called creative photography, which is postulated as another artistic medium in the field of contemporary art.

Giorgia Fiorio, Allenamento della squadra Alessandria Rugby. Alessandria, 2002. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
Giorgia Fiorio, Allenamento della squadra Alessandria Rugby. Alessandria, 2002. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

Four photographs that can be ascribed to the same trend are the ones by MònicaRoselló, whose joint work with Jordi Guillumet constructs a geometric universe of extreme delicacy and sensitivity. Also the 10 photographs of the multidisciplinary Giorgia Fiorio – singer, actress and photographer (Turin, 1967), author of personal projects of a humanitarian nature, as well as the 11 by Cristina Núñez (Figueres, 1962).

Rosa Szücs, Untitled, undated. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
Rosa Szücs, Untitled, circa 1960. Deposit of Agrupació Fotogràfica de Catalunya
Glòria Salas, Portrait of a lady, 1971. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
Glòria Salas, Retrato de una dama (Portrait of a lady), 1971. Deposit of Agrupació Fotogràfica de Catalunya

The deposit of the collection of L’Agrupació Fotogràfica de Catalunya (AFC) (The Photographic Association of Catalonia) carried out in 2003 has been the largest number of women photographers that the museum has received. The Association, founded in 1923, did not create a first course for women until 1956. This course counted on teachers of the level of Salvador Lluch and Julio Ubiña was the origin of the Feminine Group of the AFC, to which amateur photographers such as Rosa Szücs, among others, belonged, and of whom the museum possesses 195 works; Carme Garcia de Ferrando, 33; Glòria Salas, 10 or Montserrat Vidal Barraquer, one.

The works of these authors are based on a wide variety of themes – portraits, landscapes, costume scene, etc.,although they share the common feature that they knew how to overcome the pictorialism that was still practised in those years with the boosting of modern personal visions.

In 1959, the first exhibition of the Women’s Group was held at the AFC headquarters, a circumstance that encouraged the group to enter competitions in which they obtained recognitions and awards, some of them of international scope.

Carme García de Ferrando, Untitled, undated. Museu Nacional
Carme García de Ferrando, Untitled, undated. Deposit of Agrupació Fotogràfica de Catalunya

Montserrat Vidal-Barraquer, Nuns, no datat. Museu Nacional
Montserrat Vidal-Barraquer, Nuns, undated. Deposit of Agrupació Fotogràfica de Catalunya

The museum also conserves works by other amateur AFC female photographers that are virtually unknown, but we don’t want to neglect to mention: Esther Abejón Escribano, Paulina Agueró Ortega, Tina Bagué Faura, Anna Bahí Tarafa, Àngels Balansó, Dolores Bañón Morant, Maria Rosa Bernabeu Estellés, Dolors Bernabeu, Roser Borrell Busquets, Yolanda Carmona Sánchez, Maria Dolors Cots Soler, Mariló Fernández Indiano, Angelines Galán Longoria, Carmen Hortal Santelices, Maria Jové Massó, Paulina López de la Casa, Montserrat Llopart Freixas, Celia Maroto Álvarez, Pilar Masbernat Capdevila, Remei Morros Vidal,  Montserrat Nadal Soler, Pepita Pauné Floris, Sabater Rosich, Verónica Sáenz, Elena Suma Pezzi, Maria Teresa Tarabal Esteve, Anna Maria Vea Saiz, Gloria Verdoy Barasategui. Each of them counting on one work, except for Dolors Bernabeu, Carmona, Cots, Llopart, Morros and Sáenz, who have 2; Fernández, Jové and Masbernat, 3; Pauné, 11 and Tarabal, 16.

In 2003, Lluís Permanyer donated a work by a female artist with whom he had collaborated Melba Levick, famous above all for the snapshots of Formentera that she took in the 1970s.

The list of photographers present in the Photography Collection is completed with 3 images of the multifaceted Elsa Peretti, an image by Maria Espeus, which came from the Oriol Maspons deposit of 2011 and 5 new images by Rispa which were incorporated in 2015 through the National Photography Plan.

To finish we could say that the exhibition Marianne Breslauer. Photographs 1927-1938 (2016) highlighted the Museu Nacional’s commitment to the recovery and dissemination of the work of women photographers, a commitment that, within a broader context, has also been reflected in the exhibitions Lluïsa Vidal. Modernism painter (2016-2017) and Gala Salvador Dalí. A room of one’s own in Púbol (2018).

Related links

Photography in Catalonia

Colita Photography

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Magda Juandó

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