Against the current
Some years ago the Tarragona born photographer Cristóbal Castro was commissioned by the City Council of Terrassa to curate a commemorative exhibition of the Vallés floods disaster, which took place in 1962, and which in just three hours provoked hundreds of deaths, thousands of injuries and countless material damage. He then contacted Joana Biarnés (born in 1935) another Tarragona native and the first Spanish photo-journalist to have recorded the catastrophe for the afternoon newspaper Pueblo, for which she worked over many years. As a result of this encounter Castro gained access to the original copies and negatives that constituted the archive of Biarnés’ work, then almost forgotten but of great historical and artistic value. The meeting also marked the beginning of a series of initiatives to recover this legacy which together they have sought to publicize through the pioneering work of this photographer commemorating her contribution both to the field of photojournalism and to her vindication of women’s rights.
Although Biarnés’ position was not so much that of a feminist activist, but that of a woman who operated in a sector traditionally exclusive to men based on consciousness and the conviction of having the same rights as men, with the same if not superior abilities, and that constituted a professional attitude in the face of the discriminatory attitudes against which she exercised her profession as a photojournalist. Her forthright attitude, her commitment to the profession, and respect for those she photographed whether they were movie stars or pop musicians, members of royal families or anonymous citizens, as well as her curious and imaginative spirit including the Beatles (with whom in 1965, during their first visit to Barcelona, she spent three hours in their Avenida Palace Hotel room, after gaining access by taking the freight lift), Joan Manuel Serrat, Carmen Sevilla, Roman Polanski, Salvador Dalí or the Bosé clan.
Lucía Bosé dressed as George Sand during the filming of "A Winter in Mallorca", by Jaime Camino, Mallorca, 1969
Las riadas del Vallés causaron centenares de muertos y numerosos desperfectos. Las fuertes precipitaciones, breves pero intensas, provocaron numerosas víctimas y daños materiales. En la imagen, las vías de ferrocarril colgando a su paso por la riera de Les Arenes. Terrassa, 25 de septiembre de 1962
After the 2015 premiere of the documentary Joana Biarnés. Una entre tots made by Óscar Moreno and Jordi Rovira, and the accompanying exhibition through which she was rediscovered by the general public (produced by the Ajuntament de Terrassa) that same year, the Palau Robert now presents a selection of ninety photographs from her photographic archive which belong to the decade between 1963 and 1973, during which she worked for the newspaper Pueblo. These are images that document historical events, sporting events, different typres of shows, anonymous characters from the Spain of that era and above all famous faces in everyday situations or, in contrast to these more intimate moments, during public appearances. Mostly laidback and informal spur-of-the-moment portraits, although some are more serious and intriguing.
Dalí dressed as a clown next to a model. Portlligat (Girona), 1966
But although the exhibition undoubtedly includes less formal images, it also has a more sombre component, not because of the photographer’s perspective which if anything is just the contrary, but because beyond these personal portraits, the images reflect a Spain of a different era, a depressed Spain, a conservative and ‘grey’ society, castrated by a Franco regime already in its last throws but nonetheless equally repressive. Biarnés, however, also captures and reflects certain defiant gestures that were beginning to emerge within this grey social reality; daring and rebellious attitudes, that went against the current, like her own. These gestures are revealed, for example, in her fashion photography, when she documents the introduction of the miniskirts, “camisetones” or shorts, a way of working where she was undoubtedly also a pioneer, in daring to break the conventions of the traditional studio photography taking the models out onto the street and photographing them next to traffic lights, or under the towering cranes of a building site.
Actor Roger Moore, “The Saint”, surrounded by fans during the filming of an advertisement for “Coñac 103”. Barcelona, 1967
Joan Manuel Serrat. Cercedilla (Madrid), 1969
The work of Biarnés allows us to look back over not only Spain’s recent history but also the evolution of journalism in our country. In a documentary provided at the end of the exhibition, the same Biarnés comments on how by the mere fact of being a woman, the police often denied her access to certain places and events, which reflects the conservative and unequal society of the time, but also the fact that journalism, during the sixties and seventies, was a profession dominated and exercised mostly by men. In this same documentary Biarnés explains how at a certain point she needed to leave the profession and move away from the sector. It was already the decade of the eighties, a few years into which the phenomenon of the "paparazzi" took over, a point at which many newspapers and magazines embraced sensationalism and celebrity-culture.
Report about Marisol at the Torrejón de Ardoz military base. Madrid, 1967
Two bullfighters share a joke in Las Ventas bullring. Madrid, 1967
JOANA BIARNÉS. AGAINST THE CURRENT
- From 27 October to 02 April
- Palau Robert
- Passeig de Gràcia, 107 08008 Barcelona