Centre Internacional de Fotografia Barcelona (1978-1983)
In the heart of the Raval, at Carrer Aurora 11 bis, we can still find the building that once housed the Centre Internacional de Fotografia Barcelona, CIFB. On its façade, an icon of the renovation of the neighbourhood, we can still see the paintings by Arranz Bravo and Bartolozzi, restored in 1997. The CIFB was a short-lived experiment in the process of institutionalisation of photographic culture during Spain's democratic Transition. The current study of this experiment, little known and almost forgotten despite its nearness in time and space, should be understood from a double perspective: local and global.
On the one hand, this is a local study of a process that was taking place at an international level during the seventies: the re-composition of the cultural field within the new cultural industries following a post-industrial economic model. This was a moment of great expansion for the art market, with photography becoming part of it to an unprecedented degree. The seventies marked the beginning of a great international resurgence of institutions, festivals, academic programmes, galleries and publications that laid down the conditions for the interpenetration of culture and economy as it is known today.
On the other hand, this is a study of how such generalised historical conditions took on a specific, local and very concrete form in the field of photography in Barcelona during the Transition. In this sense, the study sheds a different light on the period, allowing us to understand how disparate photographic practices and traditions, which have since become separate, were able to coexist at the time. The multiplicity of the seventies eventually lost ground when faced with a visualist conception of creative photography, whose hegemony began to establish itself after the Jornades Catalanes de Fotografia, which took place at the Fundació Joan Miró in 1980, and which, in retrospect, are still regarded as photography's official entry into the new cultural policies. The CIFB declined to take part in the Jornades.
The CIFB opened in October 1978 in the Barri Xino, Barcelona's old town red light district, later renamed the Raval. It occupied a three-storey building, on the site of an old pasta factory, whose façade was decorated, after the rehabilitation of the building, with a mural by the painters Arranz Bravo and Bartolozzi representing a chronological history of photography through the portraits of some of its most famous authors, from Daguerre to Robert Frank, and ending with such local celebrities as Oriol Maspons and Xavier Miserachs. Albert Guspi (1943–1985), the director of CIFB, had been a photo-reporter before opening the Spectrum gallery in 1973, the first commercial photography gallery in Spain.
The Spectrum gallery had an international exhibition programme, featuring historical and contemporary photographers. It rapidly became a meeting point for a new generation of creative photographers. In 1975, Guspi, a tireless promoter of the new photographic culture, created the Grup Taller d'Art Fotogràfic, a workshop where photographers such as Lucho Poirot, Manel Esclusa and Pere Formiguera taught the theory and practice of photography. Following the model of the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie in Arles, in the summer of 1976 Guspi organised the Taller Mediterrani de Fotografia in Cadaqués, combining exhibitions and workshops led by national and international photographers.
Thanks to his contacts in Arles, Guspi managed to introduce Spectrum into the European network of galleries financed by Canon. After signing a contract with Canon, he soon saw the possibility of creating a network of Canon galleries in Spain, which could benefit from the international exhibitions presented at the Canon galleries network, such as an exhibition of portraits by Richard Avedon and an exhibition featuring photographers from the Farm Security Administration.
The CIFB marked the culmination of Guspi's career as a visionary promoter of Spanish photographic culture. From the beginning, the centre favoured the tradition of documentary culture, following the model of the International Center of Photography in New York, founded by Cornell Capa in 1974. Cornell Capa, brother of the legendary Robert Capa, had coined the term 'concerned photography' in reference to the great tradition of photojournalism started in the thirties. It is significant of CIFB's alignment with that documentary tradition that the opening exhibition at the CIFB was a comprehensive retrospective of Agustí Centelles, a clearly programmatic gesture that made a decisive contribution to Centelles' recuperation as a great protagonist of modern photography in Spain. Equally significant was the first issue of the magazine Imatge, published by the CIFB, defining the programmatic lines underpinning its structure and activities: the image as a means of social communication, a commitment to photographic education and a conception of the image as a constituent agent of visual culture and the social environment.
The activities developed at the CIFB turned around four axes: education, which favoured working in groups in order to document aspects of everyday urban life; the exhibitions; cinema screenings; and, finally, debates and public presentations, in which mostly local photographers were invited to show their work in slide projections.
The CIFB marked an inflection in the photographic scene at the end of the seventies, but it fell into rapid decline once Canon withdrew their funding in 1980, although there were other equally determining factors. At the time, other photographic spaces, new galleries and schools were appearing in the city, while photography was being included as a subject in art schools, and was integrated in cultural policies with the aim of recuperating the photographic heritage. In this context the CIFB lost its initial impact while declining any collaboration with public bodies and the new cultural policies. It closed in 1983, and Guspi died suddenly in 1985.
The exhibition is centred round a documentary project on everyday life in Barcelona and its neighbourhoods, a theme that was to prove the most important and singular contribution of the CIFB. The exhibited works were made by the teachers and students, together with other photographers linked to the CIFB who had actively participated in the projects developed at the centre or its public screenings. It is a collective representation of a traumatised city at the end of a long dictatorship, prior to the urban renovation of the 1980s, at a moment of emergence of new micropolitical social behaviours and new forms of resistance that would lead to the recovery of the public space.
The exhibition is structured in three sections and shows the relative multiplicity of ideas and exhibiting formats that characterised the activities of the CIFB. The first section includes representations of the city's popular neighbourhoods and their vernacular inhabitants: the seedy areas of the Barri Xino and the Rambla, where the CIFB was located, photographed by Anna Boyé, Pep Cunties and Jordi Pol; marginalised communities such as La Perona gipsy slum, documented by Esteve Lucerón; peripheral urban areas such as the harbour and Montjuïc, documented by Xavier Martí Alavedra and Enric Aguilera; the slaughterhouse seen by Pep Cunties; and the self-constructed dwellings on the south seafront of Barcelona, photographed by Jordi Sarrà. Also included are screenings of the works presented at the CIFB by members of the teaching staff, such as Mariano Zuzunaga, Eduard Olivella, Manel Esclusa and Jordi Sarrà, and other local documentary photographers who took part in the photography evenings, such as Humberto Rivas, Lluís Casals, Manolo Laguillo and Ferran Freixa.
The second section is dedicated to a slide show of the old Santa Creu Psychiatric Hospital, a reportage made by three CIFB photographers, Jesús Atienza, Pep Cunties and Eduardo Subías. It is presented exactly as it was seen at a public screening in 1980, accompanied by piano music by the pianist and photographer, Mariano Zuzunaga.
The last section presents a selection of works centred on the representation of popular entertaiment and carnevalesque public practices, which highlight the key role played by the gay and transsexual subcultures during the Transition, and their forms of resistance at a time when new models of social behaviour were emerging and a new democratic public space was being recovered. Included here are reportages by Eduardo Subías, Anna Boyé and Jordi Sarrà on boxing and wrestling, an extensive document on the music-hall El Molino by Josep Tobella, and two series by Lucho Poirot and Miquel Arnal on transsexuals at the Sitges Carnival and on the transvestite artist and painter Ocaña getting made-up for a show, respectively, during Carnival in 1978 and 1979. The section closes with a series on the everyday life of a circus produced by the group Extra!, formed by Sergi Capellas, Jordi García and Xavier Rosselló, in 1980. This was one of the largest and most ambitious exhibitions presented at the CIFB.
Official opening: 26 January 2012. Dates: 27 January – 20 May 2012. Curators: Jorge Ribalta and Cristina Zelich. Organised and produced by: Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA).