‘Destino’ was a weekly Spanish magazine which started life in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War by a group of Catalans connected to the Spanish right, but shifted in a few short years to being published in Barcelona and taking a liberal and catalinista path until it’s death in 1980.
A self-taught photographer named Eugeni Forcano joined the magazine in 1960 and for the next 14 years regularly contributed cover images and photo reports for the publication.
Some of this work is currently being exhibited at the Arxiu Fotogràfic de Barcelona (Barcelona Photography Archive) which is located in the former Convent de Sant Agustí in Born, an impressive space which has now been converted for community and cultural activities. The archive houses a collection of more than 2 million photographs of the city from 1839 to the present day and I went along to see some of senyor Forcano’s work.
The exhibition is entitled ‘Eugeni Forcano, My Barcelona’ and indeed his Barcelona is very much different to my Barcelona. Although many of his photographs are portrait in style and his subjects, the street sellers, children, tramps and ordinary working people dominate the frame and often look you straight in the eye, it was those images of the crowds of citizens, events and street scenes of a sadly yet in some ways equally thankfully lost city that most captured my interest.
As I was unable to take my own photos on display I have taken these from the Eugeni Forcano link above. Unfortunately some of my favourites that captured this relatively recent yet almost unrecognisable ciutat are not available to share here.
The period that Forcano documented for Destino magazine was that of a different Catalonia and Spain. The country was poorer and living under Franco’s dictatorship, evidenced in some of the pictures with castillianised street names, for example ‘Via Layetana’ in place of the Catalan ‘Via Laietana’, huge religious processions and a sense of the religious fervour and influence enforced by the regime.
Much less so than today, it would appear that nuns and monks were ever present amongst the lay folk and there were some amusing scenes of nuns in unexpected places such as on the beach in the first picture or appearing outraged by the arrival of the bikini below, something which would they would rapidly see more of as the government started Spain and the city onto the path of being the tourist trap it is these days.
Bullfighting, a symbol of Spain, encouraged by the government and before the recent ban in the region, took place at ‘Las Arenas’ bullring in Plaça d’Espanya. It was also used for other events and displays. In coming months it will open as a shopping centre after being renovated and raised due to the designs of the Richard Rogers Partnership. ‘Las Arenas’ means ‘the sands’ by the way, not arena. A false Spanish friend.
I can’t say I’m sorry to see that the oppression and religious conservatism has disappeared. However, what is saddening is the irreplaceable city that is no more and which unfortunately I don’t have photos of to share here. The fisherman at Port Vell in their rope soled espardenyes (sandals) sharing wine on the quayside after landing their catch. The old streets of the Barri Gotic and the Rambla unburdened by the throng of tourists with the pickpockets and bag thieves that trail them and the locals alike. Workers unloading goods at the defunct Mercat del Born which after much archaelogical excavation is being turned into a cultural centre, albeit with lots of delays. People travelling to work on open sided trams and policemen directing traffic under stylish parasols to protect them from the sun. No ‘Volem un barri digne’ (‘We want a dignified neighbourhood’) signs hanging from balconies in the Gotic and Raval areas in response to the drug dealing, noisy drunk visitors and beer sellers disturbing the residents peace.
Could Forcano have predicted when he snapped this smart, bespectacled visitor almost half a century ago how much the Olympics, the subsequent enticement to tourists and their omnipresence would change his city?
Time moves on, somethings die, disappear, advance, improve. However, somethings never change and just as these weary females kneel at the steps of a cathedral to beg for some relief to their poverty, this is something my Barcelona does have in common with Forcano’s. Maybe it’s futile at the church steps these days, now the begging is in the squares, on the corners in the most visited barris or on public transport instead.
‘Eugeni Forcano, La meva Barcelona’
Arxiu Fotogràfic de Barcelona, Pl. Pons i Clerch, Born until 15th January 2011.
Additional photos also at Sala Ciutat, C/Ciutat 2, this has been extended until 21st November 2010.