I work the street. Joan Colom, photographs 1957-2010.
'I work street. With my photographs I try to be a kind of notary of an era.' With this statement the nonagenarian Joan Colom (Barcelona, 1921) defines his penchant for flashing into the history of Catalan creativity: the photo essay.
Colom began his career in photography soon after he married in 1957, and left it in 1964. In the 1980s, with the return of Catalan self-government and its own cultural base, Colom was made into an institution and filed in the drawer of the generation of 'new art', along with with Ricard Terre, Xavier Miserachs and Ramon Masats.
Colom took up photography again in the 1990s, but we knew almost nothing about this period of his work. In 2012 he gave his archives to the MNAC, and now this museum that preserves thousand years of Catalan artistic heritage, after processing and studying over a thousand pieces, brings us a major retrospective exhibition that unveils all of Colom's work for the first time, including unpublished images and historical and contextual interpretations of his work.
That said, we have to say that the exhibition is perhaps too extensive. There are too many photos, some too similar to others, while it's one thing in a publication – we're waiting for the catalogue – it can be detrimental if all the photos are crowded onto walls and jammed into corridors. Will we appreciate Colom's work more if we see 500 good photos instead of 200? It's taking things to an extreme if, instead of the usual 30 photos of the Raval's brothels from the 1960s, our eyes are saturated with more than 10 times that number.
It's fantastic to discover Colom's early works, with idle seamen and religious processions, his time with the Mussol Group, the instant celebrities of the Raval – he hid his camera below his waist, a real sex shooter – his attempt to have a career as photojournalist, and his starting back up again 30 years later with images of La Rambla and Plaça Reial. The comeback didn't devalue the picturesqueness of the early 1960s, but refreshes our memory on urban permissiveness, the tribes of alcoholics, prostitutes and exhibitionists and populating the new global Barcelona reality; in short, proof once again that, no matter how much time passes, there are parts of the city that still have an excess of the human condition.