Ramón Masats

Visit Spain
Room l’Estrella

Between 1955 and 1965, Ramón Masats traveled throughout the geography of Spain with his camera and an obsession in his head: to portray the clichés with which official culture blessed patriotic values. He began his career as a contributor to several publications, and this journey allowed him to develop an innovative work that revolutionized the sad panorama of official photography, still entangled in its dependence on the aesthetic canons that the classical order imposed on the new discipline.

Over time, Masats’ work coincided with the end of Franco’s autarky and with the opening designed by the government with the creation of the Ministry of Information and Tourism (1951) and the National Tourism Plan (1953). “Visit Spain” was the first message used by official propaganda.

At that time, still without television, photography was the ideal vehicle to recognize ourselves and be recognized, and photographic reportage interested everyone. The best photographers were hired to discover the world for us under their gaze, and reportage became an established format. Photography achieved its definitive exaltation in the celebrated exhibition “The Family of Man,” which the Museum of Modern Art in New York, under the direction of Edward Steichen, celebrated in grand style in 1955.

That same year, Spain was admitted to the United Nations, thereby achieving its first glimmer of international presence. The urgent need to break out of autarkic isolation and to solve serious development problems made tourism the enabling industry for any dream of progress.

The government developed structures that facilitated the arrival of visitors and outlined tourism plans that enabled the boom of the following decade. Borders were opened, transportation was encouraged, and tourist slogans were created that defined this country as unusual or different, a difference centered on the clichés of sun, bulls, dance, and gastronomy at unbeatable prices.

In this scenario, Masats undertook his particular journey focused on the Castilian and folk rituals that he describes as clichés. His story draws a picture of a country trapped in material poverty, flattened socially, and staunchly bound spiritually. The powerful graphics of his photographs and the particular irony of his gaze represented the new imprint of documentary photography, in which the photographer’s personality constructs a suggestion beyond the mere optical reality of the photographic image, and its final interpretation is left solely in the hands of the viewer. Photographic suggestions that have colonized our memory.

Text by Chema Conesa

Blanca Berlin

Ramón Masats was born in Caldas de Montbui in 1931. He discovered photography during his military service through magazines like Arte Fotográfico. He decided to join the Círculo Fotográfico del Casino de Tarrasa and the Sociedad Fotográfica de Cataluña as an amateur. He met photographers such as Xavier Miserachs, Oriol Maspons, and Ricard Terré, with whom he exhibited his first photographs in 1957. That same year, he moved to Madrid to work as a reporter for Gaceta Ilustrada, the major graphic publication of the time. He exhibited in Barcelona, Madrid, and Almería. It was the year of his professional explosion and a superb harvest in the creative field. His work on the Sanfermines festival began to bear fruit in the form of unforgettable images, and his membership in the AFAL group led by Perez Siquier opened doors of recognition in Europe.

He joined the Real Sociedad Fotográfica de Madrid, where his personal and creative vigor impressed. He traveled around Spain on assignments for publications such as Gaceta Ilustrada, Mundo Hispánico, and Ya. Along with Ontañon, Cualladó, Paco Gomez, Leonardo Cantero, and Rubio Camín, he created the group La Palangana, a kind of castizo and oppositional branch of official photography, perhaps the Madrid echo of the active AFAL group.

In 1962, he published the book Neutral Corner (Lumen) with texts by Ignacio Aldecoa, which was an editorial milestone for its excellent combination of literature and photographic language. It was a book in which he explored the world of boxing in a sensory key. The following year, he published a compilation of his work on the Sanfermines festival. With it, he received the Ibarra award for the best-edited book. It was also Masats’ first contact with the world of cinema, which he would later devote his attention to. It was the short film La Suerte, a documentary written by Mario Camuts about the world of gambling, in which Masats was involved in the photography.

In 1964, he published Viejas Historias de Castilla la Vieja, with texts by Miguel Delibes. These three books constitute the maximum legacy of Ramón Masats’ first stage in his trajectory as a renovator of the photographic language of reportage.

From 1965 to 1981, he devoted himself to filmmaking and television. From this stage, the documentaries “El que enseña,” “La España de los contrastes,” and “Canarias: un paraíso surgido de las aguas,” which were awarded in several contests, stand out. He also directed series such as “Conozca usted España,” “Los rios,” “Si las piedras hablaran,” and “Raices y música” for Televisión Española. For cinema, he made the feature film “Topical Spanish.”

His stubbornness, solitude and independence lead him to return to the world of photography to create a collection of books with Lunwerg publishing, including “Our Madrid”, “Diverse Spain”, “Al Andalus” and “Toro”. In this new stage, he chooses color as his medium. His photos now respond to the new chromatic register. The narrative force of his previous black and white stage is transformed into syncretisms of color and form. In 1999, his first retrospective exhibition was held at the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid. In 2001, he was awarded the photography prize of the Community of Madrid, and in 2004, the National Photography Prize.