On the occasion of Book and Reading Year, the museum's Department of Photography, in collaboration with the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, has gathered the work of the most outstanding photographers of the mid-twentieth century to exhibit them alongside the original books that were the support on which they circulated. The exhibition is a unique opportunity to enjoy the photographs of Robert Frank, William Klein, Richard Avedon, Larry Clark, Irving Penn, Josef Koudelka, Ralph Gibson, Bernard Plossu, Xavier Miserachs and Joan Colom in the same space, and at the same time to admire the first editions of publications that are works of art in themselves. In these ten books, to the work of these photographers was added that of leading writers like Truman Capote, Camilo José Cela, Josep Maria Espinàs, Joan Oliver and John Szarkowski.
Walter Benjamin saw photography as a revolutionary medium whose place had to be amongst means of production and communication rather than the fine arts. His considerations were logical, since prejudice against the photographic work as a patrimonial and speculative object did not augur a very promising future.
Photography after the Second World War was dominated by the discourse of realism and reportage. The acceptance by the public began the period in which illustrated magazines and graphics publishing worldwide reached the peak of their popularity and influence. Publishing became the preferred, if not the only, method of dissemination for photographers. Some photographers felt the work did not really exist until it was published. In our context, these books have a twofold value: first, the strength with which the message of their images represented was perceived, and secondly, the fact that for a long time they were the only information about great photographers to reach our country. The work of the great photographers was only accessible through the painstaking publications arriving from abroad or, in some exceptional cases, also produced in this country. It was not until 1955, with the exhibition The Family of Man, presented at the MOMA under the curatorship of Edward Steichen, that photography's capacity for interpretation away from the printed page was demonstrated.
This period (from 1950 to the nineteen-seventies) marked the end of the hegemony of publishing as the means of disseminating photography. The historical conditions as regards the dissemination of photography changed in the course of the nineteen-sixties and led to photography intended as an autonomous art form connecting with the photographic avant-gardes. Works left the books to take over the walls, format and presentation changed. Photography became a patrimonial asset.
The exhibition takes us on a retrospective tour of some of these important books that left a profound mark on us and that clearly show this transition: from illustration to exhibition space.
Exhibition produced by the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya with the collaboration of the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris.
Book and Reading Year 2005.