Artist Biography: Joan Colom (1921)
After its civil war, Spain was completely cut off from the outside world. The recovery process was slow and belated at every level, including the fields of culture and photography.
In 1957, the creation of various collectives such as Equipo 57 and El Paso, which managed to bring Spanish art up to speed with the rest of Europe, represented a decisive step towards artistic renewal. Almería, Barcelona and Madrid became the hotbeds of photographic regeneration, where artists facing countless obstacles and a shortage of resources banded together in different groups and associations.
In 1950, a shared belief in the importance of the artist’s role as a social agent gave rise to the Agrupación Fotográfica Almeriense (Photographic Association of Almería or AFAL), initially active at the local level and later internationally, with which the Catalan photographer Joan Colom (1921) was associated. AFAL was disbanded in 1964, but it managed to unite some of the best photographers of the second half of the 20th century, including Carlos Pérez Siquier (1930), Juan Dolcet (1914), Ramón Masats (1931) and Francisco Ontañón (1930). Joan Colom, Masats and Ontañón were also members of the Agrupación Fotográfica de Cataluña (Photographic Association of Catalonia or AFC), which was led by one of the most important photography critics of that generation, José María Casademont (1928-1994).
Joan Colom was born in Barcelona in 1921. After working for a time as an accountant at a firm, he decided to take up photography despite his lack of formal training, and in May 1957 he joined the Agrupació Fotogràfica de Catalunya, as the AFC was called in Catalan.
Starting in 1958, he spent two years portraying the residents and prostitutes who worked in and around Barcelona’s red-light district with his Leica. This work, grouped into series such as La calle (The Street), El Rabal or El Born—of which Fundación MAPFRE possesses an excellent selection—led to his first solo exhibition in 1961, La calle, which opened at Sala Aixelà in Barcelona and travelled to the Royal Photographic Society of Madrid months later.
Colom took these pictures with his camera discreetly held at waist-height and snapped photos without looking through the viewfinder. As the artist himself explained, “We were trying to find a kind of photography that was direct, devoid of aestheticisms, realistic and with a central theme. [...] We wanted photography that would capture life, experience the street. A criterion far removed from the rather academic criteria of the day.”
In May 1962 he travelled to Paris for 11 fotógrafos españoles en París (11 Spanish Photographers in Paris), a project that also involved Maspons, Cualladó, Miserachs, Forcano, Cubaró, Basté, Cantero, Masats, Gómez and Ontañón and was exhibited in Barcelona and Madrid.
In 1964, the publishing house Lumen released the series La calle, El Rabal and El Born in a book entitled Izas, rabizas y colipoterras, with text by Camilo José Cela, as part of its “Palabra e Imagen” collection. Shortly after, the press began reporting that one of the photographed women had attempted to file a lawsuit. This controversy led Colom to give up photography for many years, practically until the 1980s, and this extended absence may partly explain why the artist’s name was so little known by the public until well into the 1990s. In 1999 the opening of the exhibition La calle. Joan Colom en la Sala Aixelà, 1961 at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC), which recreated his only show from that period, signalled the rediscovery of an artist whose photographs of Barcelona testify to the collective memory of an era.
In 2002 he was awarded the National Photography Prize by the Spanish Ministry of Culture, and in 2004 he received the National Visual Arts Prize. Joan Colom currently lives in Barcelona.