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Working the street hidden

A prostitute enters a building with her client in Barcelona © Joan Colom
A prostitute enters a building with her client in Barcelona © Joan Colom

The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC) offers an exciting exhibit about Joan Colom, street photographer from Catalonia, popularly known for his extensive work in the Raval, a neighborhood in Barcelona. Joan Colom is a talent that deserves to be called the Catalan Cartier- Bresson. His best known images are those caught between the 50s and 60s, but the MNAC also shows many of his last period during the 90s and the early years of this century.

“I was just doing photography and looking for images that moved me. I worked the street” Joan Colom said at some point. What comes out are mostly street prostitutes talking with customers, but we also find many homeless, alcoholics, dwarves, tourists, transgender, children… A whole “fauna” that he “hunted” most times hiding his camera and shooting without looking through the viewfinder.

I’m scared to criticize a “monster” of art such Joan Colom, but after leaving the MNAC I wondered if the man throwing up in a tree in La Rambla, that one who broke his head on a sidewalk, a drunk sleeping in a bench or that tourist unconsciously showing her panties while eating a sandwich would be happy to be seen in this exhibition. Joan Colom has published and shown many images in which the human dignity is in doubt and has never asked for approval. Yes, it is true that all his photographs were taken in public spaces, but the intention and perspective of his work is, at least, ethically debatable.

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