The Endless War will reveal the different facets of the work of the photographer Antoni Campañà (Arbúcies, 1906 – Sant Cugat del Vallès, 1989), focusing on the photographs that he took during the Spanish Civil War, which his family found by chance in 2018. This series of images, of great artistic quality and historical importance, was hidden away in a box by the artist, where it remained for more than 70 years, from the end of the Civil War to 2018. This box, containing hundreds of previously unseen images, is now known as the “red box” and it is a very important new contribution to Catalonia’s photographic heritage, with regard to the Civil War especially, resituating Campañà as one of the great names in 20th-century Catalan and Spanish photography.
The show will present a large number of these previously unseen photographs, never even developed by the photographer. The majority of the photos in the exhibition come from the material kept by the artist’s family, which has decided to loan 63 photographs from the pictorialist period before the war to the museum. Some of these photographs will also be displayed for the first time in the exhibition.
Campañà could be described as a photographer of contrasts. He started out as a photographer at a very young age and become one of the most prize-winning pictorialists in the world. His work was in fact already part of the museum’s collection as a representative of Catalan pictorialism. He incorporated the aesthetic trends of the European avant-garde in his work very early on and used the pigmentary techniques of pictorialism, but with a gaze influenced by the New Vision. Diagonal shots, overhead shots and daring compositions became his way of capturing reality.
The photographer maintained this modern gaze during the Civil War, although the harshness of the surrounding reality made his photography more direct and rapid. Campañà took more than 5,000 photographs during the war years, photographing everything he saw in an attempt to overcome the trauma of the war through the viewfinder of his camera. He photographed the complexity of his time without self-censorship or concessions to any particular cause.
Militiawomen, refugees arriving in Barcelona from Malaga in January 1937, buildings in ruins after bombing raids, communal dining halls, Durruti’s burial or the exposure of Salesian nuns’ corpses in Passeig Sant Joan, all these were captured by his lens. Campañà captured scenes of everyday life, encompassing ordinary events and the violence of the war, and finally, in 1939, the withdrawal of the Republican army and the victory parades of Franco’s troops. This was the moment when the photographer decided to shut the war away in a box in order to try to make a new start, despite the circumstances.
The post-war period was for Antoni Campañà one of traumatic adaptation, going back to and intensifying themes such as sport, landscapes or scenes of modern life, when this finally began to reach Catalonia.
Seen in its entirety, Campañà’s work captures the complexity and the contradictions of the 20th century. The exhibition shows us a tireless artist who tried to cover every aspect of photography.