In this exhibition three women photographers explore the streets of Barcelona in three consecutive periods of key importance in Spain’s recent history. Margaret Michaelis, who arrived from Berlin in 1933, came across the modern city of the 1930s then in the midst of transformation and growth. The photographs she took in 1934 of the red-light district in the Raval neighbourhood bear witness to and denounce the situation of a run-down, working-class enclave on which architects and town planners were pinning their dreams of regeneration. Barely three years later, the Barcelona portrayed by Hungarian Kati Horna was witnessing the advance of the Civil War from the rearguard, while everyday life in its streets and neighbourhoods unfolded before the photographer's lens. In the 1940s, with the war over and the Franco regime beginning, life was resumed in an empty and silenced city, while Montserrat Vidal-Barraquer dodged the restrictions imposed on women and sought out beautiful corners.
Ranging from a documentary to a more humanistic or personal approach, these photographs highlight the essential part played by women in visually portraying the city and their pioneering role in an environment that was unfavourable to female artists. They also underline the importance of the modern photographer's gaze as a historical and experiential testimony.
Margaret Michaelis (1902-1985)
Fleeing from Berlin to escape Nazism, Margaret Michaelis, a Jewish photographer of Polish origin, set up her studio in Barcelona from 1933 to 1937. Commissioned by the architects' association GATCPAC, she photographed the Raval neighbourhood. Between Monday 9 and Friday 13 April 1934 she produced an extensive photo report of its most run-down area – the red-light district, called the Barrio Chino – to support the demands for urban planning and sanitation measures in this neighbourhood whose bustling everyday life is also captured in Michaelis's photographs. Streets where the residents of this impoverished working-class area are busy going about their daily activities and façades and courtyards of modest buildings with clothes hung out to dry make up a mosaic of the Second Republic Barcelona on which plans for progress and transformation of the modern city were focused.
Kati Horna (1912-2000)
The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War attracted many European photographers, who explored the front or toured the cities as fighting spread across the country. Kati Horna – who took the surname of her husband, Spanish artist José Horna -- arrived in 1937 on an assignment from the Republic's foreign propaganda ministry and visited several cities. She spent a few days in Barcelona, capturing with her camera the still peaceful life in the city, where the Raval and the red-light district also caught her attention. Children in the streets, peddlers and walls papered with political posters illustrate the calm before the storm that she herself documented on a later trip in March 1938, when she witnessed a bombing and the destruction suffered by the city.
Montserrat Vidal-Barraquer (1902-1992)
After the war, the professional activity of female photographers was temporarily interrupted as the Franco regime imposed harsh restrictions on women, culture and the arts. Protected by her amateur status and seeking spaces where she could go unnoticed, Montserrat Vidal-Barraquer photographed 1940s Barcelona, an almost empty city where street life had become more limited, confined to neighbourhoods such as the Gothic quarter and the Born, and residential environments. Her fascination with light gave rise to images with a dreamy, nostalgic atmosphere. Highly prolific – she left more than 22,000 negatives – Vidal was also the driving force behind the women's group of the Catalan photographic association (Agrupació Fotogràfica de Catalunya) in the 1950s, which trained and brought together numerous female photographers who continued to portray the Catalan capital in the following decades.