Photographic dreams of Barcelona

Barcelona infraroja. La ciutat encantada (Infrared Barcelona. The enchanted city)Barcelona infraroja. La ciutat encantada (Infrared Barcelona. The enchanted city)
Photographs by Søren Berenguer
Published by: Ajuntament de Barcelona and Søren Berenguer
180 pages
Barcelona, 2016

Barcelona City Council has just published a new book of photographs that gives a portrait of the city. As its title implies (Infrared Barcelona. The enchanted city), it is a compilation of 170 photographs taken with analogue film, which picks up infrared light that is invisible to the naked eye.

The author is Søren Berenguer, a young photographer from Barcelona who likes experimenting with traditional techniques – he already surprised us with his book, Barcelona vertical (Vertical Barcelona), published in 2014 and made up entirely of panoramic photos that are not horizontal, as we are accustomed to, but vertical.

Now, in a new experiment, he has picked up analogue photography and cameras again to work with infrared-sensitive film. This light, with a wavelength longer than that which is visible to the human eye, produces images that are different to those captured by traditional black and white photography. The skies become darker but the leaves and vegetation generally take on white hues that make them resemble snowy landscapes.

Based on these effects, Søren has imagined – dreamt up – a new Barcelona. Over a long period of time working on these pictures, he has rediscovered, for himself and for all of us, a series of cityscapes that, although they are perfectly identifiable, look very different: a phenomenon that’s a bit like what happens when we look at night-time images, in which our everyday landscapes also seem to be reborn.

Generally speaking, these images have a starker contrast and something of a nocturnal look about them, or of places in the cold early morning light. This creates a certain air of enchantment, with the special magic of fairy tales. This sensation is probably helped by the fact that not a single person appears in the book. The statues are the only figures that give any anthropomorphic references to the story. Accustomed as we are to seeing these urban spaces absolutely teeming with tourists and other passers-by, this absence of people has a very strong impact. It also tells us something about the tough working hours of the photographer and the many early mornings he must have spent capturing these images of silence and solitude.

It’s also worth saying that Søren has a special skill – a photographic eye, one might say – for finding different, unusual frames and angles. For creating images that both surprise and captivate us with their originality and power.

This is a book entirely dedicated to images. It has just a few lines of introduction by the author and a brief but incisive epilogue signed by the city’s chronicler, Lluís Permanyer, who says: “On completing this journey – long, disturbing and highly personal – guided so effectively by the camera of Søren Berenguer, we cannot help feeling we have discovered a Barcelona that we recognise but that we had never seen from this angle.” These words of praise accurately describe this photographic work that uses ingenuity and imagination to help us rediscover the city with great poetic force.

Demonstrations that made history

Cops de gent. 1890-2014. Barcelona. Crònica gràfica de les mobilitzacions ciutadanes [Tides of People. 1890-2014. Barcelona. A graphic chronicle of public demonstrations] Authors: Roger Adam, Andrés Antebi and Pablo González
Barcelona City Council
317 pages
Barcelona, 2016

The Barcelona City Council has published an updated edition of the book Cops de gent. Crònica gràfica de les mobilitzacions ciutadanes a Barcelona (1890-2003), which it had co-published in 2005 with Viena Edicions. The new edition, with minimal changes, follows the same structure as the original version and expands it with seven new demonstrations that were held between 2004 and 2014.

It is the work of historians and archivists Roger Adam, Andrés Antebi and Pablo González, members of Observatori de la Vida Quotidiana, a prestigious team of sociology researchers that have published several works based on photographic images. The book’s print and design quality are impressive.

It offers a broad compilation of pictures of the major public demonstrations held in Barcelona from 1890 to the present. Included are photographs, press images, posters, calls to demonstrate, leaflets and other graphic materials. All these documents are accompanied by brief texts that provide a good explanation and place each of the forty-nine most significant demonstrations in the city’s history within the political and social context of their time.

You can follow demonstrations as important as the Catalan Solidarity demonstration of 1906; the Catalan Statute demonstration of 1932; the burial of the militant anarchist and trade unionist Buenaventura Durruti in 1936; the demo for the tramway strike of 1951; the demo to welcome exiled Catalan President Tarradellas on his return to Catalonia and the rally held on the Catalan National Day in 1977; the “No to NATO” protest in 1985; the protests against the ETA attack on the Hipercor hypermarket in 1987 and against the assassination of Ernest Lluch in 2000; the Dret a Decidir pro-independence rally in 2010; and the Via Catalana (Catalan Way to Independence) in 2013. The collection gives us a clear picture, from the number of events depicted, of Francoist-era restrictions: from that thirty-seven year period, only four demonstrations are mentioned, while in an equally long period, from the arrival of democracy until today, we find twenty-seven.

Demonstrations are a form of expression and a mobilisation of public opinion and they have been a vital part of 20th century dynamics and social change. As the book shows, the people of Barcelona have been particularly active in this regard and have rallied with notable frequency and intensity for very different reasons and with a variety of objectives. The mass mobilisations of recent years around the issue of sovereignty are rooted in a long tradition that began with the first workers’ demonstration of May 1, called by the Socialist International in 1890.

From a photographic perspective, the book is a historical testament of the city and its evolution that allows us to rediscover urban spaces – now transformed or disappeared – on a journey through the streets and squares where public demonstrations are often held. Another of this book’s merits is its insight into the history of photojournalism, a field in which the authors are highly specialised. It contains pictures by fifty-two photographers, a list that has increased considerably with the addition of the new generations that have photographed the social movements of recent years.

In summary, this is a key book when it comes to recreating one of the most public aspects of the city’s history.

A compendium of our photographic past

Reporters gràfics. Barcelona 1900-1939

[Graphic reporters. Barcelona 1900-1939]

Authors: Observatori de la Vida Quotidiana, Andrés Antebi Arnó, Teresa Ferré and Pablo González Morandi

Barcelona City Council

Barcelona, 2015

173 pages

Reporters gràfics. Barcelona 1900-1939 sets out to recover the legacy of Catalan photography in the first three decades of the 20th century until the Civil War, a period that witnessed the birth of photojournalism.

The authors of this volume conducted exhaustive research in the newspaper and magazine libraries, allowing them to rediscover the work of 27 of the most representative photojournalists of the time, from those that are still well known – such as Merletti, Pérez de Rozas, Brangulí or Centelles – to a whole spate of professionals who the passage of time and the silence of the Post-War had condemned to oblivion: Badosa, Torrents, Gaspar, Casas, and so many others.

The team members came from the Everyday Life Observatory, an association that had already worked on various other photographic investigation projects and publications, such as Cops de gent 1890-2003 [Crowds of people]. Aided by different collaborators, the anthropologist Andrés Antebi, the historian Pablo González and the journalist Teresa Ferré explored the press of the period in order to research the career of photographers who had fallen into anonymity. The authors contacted their relatives, examined the archives and studied and selected the most relevant images. They consulted a broad range of sources: 20 family archives, 32 archives from public institutions and museums and 95 newspapers, as well as magazines and journals from the period.

All this work was carried out with a decidedly historical perspective, placing publications and characters within the framework of the main historic events of those intense first three decades of the 20th century. Readers are transported to the events of the so-called Tragic Week of 1909, the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, the Universal Expo of 1929, the Republic and the Civil War. They also re-live scenes from people’s working, religious and sporting lives during those years.

The work has been published in two volumes, presented in a carrying case. The first one is prefaced with an introduction by Xavier Theros, and contains the majority of the texts. These give a chronological and thematic analysis of the technical and professional revolution of photojournalism, how it related to the media and the authorities, and its successes and sorrows. It also includes some totally new information in the form of quite comprehensive biographies of each one of these 27 photographers. The personal contact of the authors and other collaborators with the photographers’ relatives, friends or acquaintances played a fundamental role in creating these biographies.

The second volume, which is more than 280 pages long, provides a chronological compilation from newspapers and magazines and photographs of the reporters studied to give a veritable compendium of our graphic past.

This publication emerges within the climate of growing interest in documentary photography in recent years. Reporters gràfics. Barcelona 1900-1939 offers the added interest of being based on in-depth historical research that has uncovered forgotten figures and thrown up unpublished material. A task for which the project sponsors, and more particularly the Observatory team, should be thanked.