Half a century later... Barcelona

Gritty photos of the Catalan city that were rejected by a publisher see the light of day

This is the story of a book that had to wait more than half a century to see the light. In 1957 the publisher Carlos Barral commissioned a photo book about Barcelona from Leopoldo Pomés, a 25-year-old who was a protégé of the Catalan artist group Dau al Set.

Pomés worked for an entire year, exploring everything from the city center to the city limits and back. He had no specific plans other than to try to cover it all. When he returned to the publisher, he spilled the photographs across a large table. Barral liked them, but the managers did not: they thought the pictures would not sell because they were "dismal and gray" and because there were "no gardens." Now, 55 years later, Foto Colectania Foundation and La Fábrica have jointly published Barcelona 1957, after selecting 80 images from that original project and setting them to texts by writer Juan Manuel Bonet and the transcript of a conversation between the photographer and the author Eduardo Mendoza. Additionally, an exhibition featuring original copies from the era will remain open at Colectania until January 26 of next year.

The book restores Pomés to his rightful place between the photographers Català-Roca and Miserachs, two key artists in the great decade of Catalan photography. The former published his own Barcelona in 1954, while the latter released Barcelona. Blanc i negre, in 1964.

The selection of Pomés' work, made by the director of Foto Colectania, Pepe Font de Mora, includes a variety of genres that have all been used by the artist later in his career. The group images convey the same narrative texture as the famous sequences of filmmaker Luis García Berlanga. Pomés explains them, stopping to discuss every character. And then there are the more esthetically conscious compositions of urban landscapes that transform into geometric compositions.

Pomés worked for a year, exploring it all, from the city center to the city limits

And of course there is the light, "a light without shadows." And La Rambla, the great promenade that Pomés returns to time and again, but which he would rather not talk about these days, given its decay. Even some of the people in his photographs have made a comeback, as though to pay tribute to him: the man leaning on the door of a bar is the father of writer Terenci Moix, although Pomés did not know it at the time. The little boy with an unfriendly expression who is carrying an enormous jug on his back is now a friendly pensioner who was there for the opening of the exhibition.

 Barcelona 1957. Leopoldo Pomés. Until January 26 at Foto Colectania Foundation, C/ Julián Romea 6, Barcelona. www.colectania.es