Pérez de Rozas, the city’s graphic chroniclers in the 20th century

20 November, 2015 | Barcelona People, Unknown City, Your City Council

A large number of images requested by users of the Photographic Archive of Barcelona bear the same signature of Pérez de Rozas. This lineage of graphic reporters kept up with the city’s heartbeat on a daily basis and provided images over a period of almost 60 years. The exhibition ‘Pérez de Rozas. Crònica gràfica de Barcelona 1931-1954’ [Pérez de Rozas. A Chronicle of Barcelona in Images. 1931-1954] brings together a sample of this body of work as it looks at the family tradition of photographers and in particular, the person who started it.

Carlos Pérez de Rozas Masdeu was born in Madrid in 1893 to a well-to-do family in Madrid. His father was a military man and a delegate for the Spanish tax authorities in the Philippines but the loss of the colony in 1898 and the death of his father changed the family’s destiny. In 1930, his mother, Maria Luisa Masdeu, decided to move to Barcelona, where her eldest son, José Pérez de Rozas Masdeu was a journalist, republican politician and secretary to the all-powerful Marquess of Foronda.

Andrés Antebi, Teresa Ferré and Pablo González, authors of the biographical text in the book and exhibition catalogue Pérez de Rozas. Crònica gràfica de Barcelona 1931-1954, explain the early days of the photographer in Barcelona: “Contacts with the local elite allowed the new arrivals to set up relatively comfortably in Barcelona. One of the people who helped them was Rafael Roldós, a pioneer in the publicity and printed press sector and owner of Las Notícias, one of the leading newspapers at the time. Roldós gave Pérez de Rozas an opening in journalism in 1911, taking him on as an assistant to the editorial team. He carried out all sorts of auxiliary tasks there, cultivating his passion for current affairs”.

Pérez de Rozas started his career as a photographer alongside significant names in Barcelona’s photojournalistic tradition such as Merletti, Ballell and Brangulí. In those early years, apart from his work for Las Notícias, Pérez de Rozas had his work published in other media such as Stadium, La Hormiga de Oro and La Unión Ilustrada.

The 1920s were an important decade for Carlos Pérez de Rozas Masdeu as in 1922 he started working for City Council alongside other photographers visually documenting the changes in the city as it prepared for the 1929 Universal Exposition. Years later, all these images would form part of the city’s historical archives.

On 4 August 1931 an event took place which would link the Pérez de Rozas name with what would later become the Photographic Archive of Barcelona. Jordi Calafell describes the event in the book previously cited: “The Government of Catalonia agreed to give the Historical Archives of the City of Barcelona (AHCB), at that time acting as a national archive, a grant of five thousand pesetas with the aim of gathering and conserving graphic material (mostly photographs) relating to the proclamation of the Republic and the social and political life of the new era”. This was the start of the ‘Crònica gràfica’, a photographic collection of all manner of acts which took place daily in the city.

Those early years in the 1930s saw social changes and also important technological advances in the field of photography. Cameras appeared which were more portable and easier to handle, with photographers able to do without tripods and glass plates. This in turn meant changes in ways of working. In the exhibition catalogue, Xavier Antich explains: “It’s worth noting that Pérez de Rozas was already part of a generation of the most innovative photojournalists, ahead of the generation which in terms of age and education he had belonged to up until then”.

It was during the years of the Republic that the two eldest sons of Pérez de Rozas, Pepe Luis and Carlos, started taking photos and the work of their father became an authentic family enterprise. The signature was always the same, ‘Pérez de Rozas’, without distinguishing which of the three was the photographer. The family worked as a team, as explained by Carlos Pérez de Rozas junior in an interview published in Solidaridad Nacional on 3 November 1967, a fragment of which is used in the exhibition: “ There were three of us working, my father, Pepe Luis and myself. One would wait for the personality at the dock or the airport and take the arrival photos, another would cover street scenes and the third would go to strategic points where we knew the subject would go”.

The exhibition catalogue starts with a text by Emilio Pérez de Rozas, one of the founder’s grandchildren, and explains what life was like at his grandparents’ flat in Rda. Universitat. The home was also the base for the family business and a laboratory where another son, Manolo, developed the photos and forwarded them to the various agencies they worked with. He also explains how his grandmother, Consuelo Sáenz de Tejada, along with the eldest daughter, Mercedes, was in charge of book-keeping and archiving the photos in strictly chronological order.

When the Spanish Civil War broke out, the Pérez de Rozas family had already made a professional name for themselves and a group of anarchists raided their home, damaging numerous glass plate photographs featuring Alfonso XIII. The incident, however, didn’t put them off later working for the anarchist union covering meetings and other acts such as tributes to Durruti. After the war, they continued to work both for City Council and for newspapers at the time, particularly La Vanguardia, and even authored the official iconography of the new regime. Even so, the exhibition shows a screening dossier, not unusual as in the early days after the war anyone who had worked for the public administration had to go through a screening process to carry on working, provided they were cleared.

Carlos Pérez de Rozas Masdeu died with his camera in his hand on 2 April 1954, covering the arrival of the ship Semiramis. Although his sons didn’t want him to, he had gone to cover the event from Montjuïc and intended to go on to the Mercè basilica. He died in C/ Ample, however, the victim of a heart attack.

The exhibition includes a total of 123 photos, most of which are authored photos from the era, although there are some current images too. Three tactile digital screens allow visitors to see a total of 600 photos, and there is also an online version of the exhibition and a link to a feature entitled ‘fem memòria’ whereby anyone with information on the people or places in the photos is welcome to add it.

Photo captions: Militia in C/ Ample during the revolution in July 1936. | Family celebration at the Pérez de Rozas family home in the 1930s. The founder is at the head of the table with a bowtie. Author: Unknown. | Children assist the rear guard. 1936. | Participants in the Miss Europe contest visit Sitges. 1933. | Speech by President Companys on 11 September 1937. | Unveiling of a plaque paying tribute to Durruti in Via Laietana. 1937. | Demonstration over the fall of Madrid. 1939. | PSUC Assembly. 1938. | Author of all photos, except the one cited: Pérez de Rozas – AFB. |