After the civil war, Spain was totally isolated from the rest of the world. The recovery process was slow and delayed at all levels; this was no less so for culture and photography.
The setting up, in 1957, of various groups such as Equipo 57 or El Paso, which managed to place Spanish art at the same level as the rest of Europe, was a decisive step in artistic revival. Almería, Barcelona and Madrid became the main centers of photographic revival where artists, facing lack of means and other difficulties, formed different groups and associations.
Under the belief in the social role of the artist, from 1950, the founding of the Agrupación Fotográfica Almeriense (AFAL Photographic Association of Almeria) first locally and then internationally with which the Catalonian Joan Colom (1921) was linked. AFAL ended its activity in 1964, but it managed to bring together the best Spanish photographers of the second half of the 20th century, most notably Carlos Pérez Siquier (1930), Juan Dolcet (1914), Ramón Masats (1931) and Francisco Ontañón (1930). Joan Colom, Masats and Ontañón were also part of the Photographic Association of Catalonia (AFC), driven by the one of the most important photography critics of this generation, Jose María Casademont (1928-1994).
Joan Colom was born in Barcelona in 1921. After working for a time as a company accountant, he taught himself about photography and in May 1957 joined the Agrupació Fotogràfica de Catalunya (AFC).
For a period of two years from 1958 he dedicated himself and his Leica to portraying the women who worked as prostitutes in and around Barcelona’s Chinatown. This work, grouped into a series titled The Street, El Raval and El Born and of which Fundación MAPFRE holds a sizeable selection—, brought about his first individual exhibition in 1961, The Street, firstly in Sala Aixelà in Barcelona and at the Royal Photographic Society (Real Sociedad Fotográfica) in Madrid a few months later.
Colom carried out his work with the camera semi-concealed at waist height and shooting without looking through the viewfinder. As the artist himself pointed out: «We were looking for a direct image, without aestheticism, realistic and following a theme. […] We wanted a photograph that captured life, as lived on the street. A criterion that deviated from the criteria, academically of the moment».
In May 1962 he traveled to Paris with the project 11 Spanish photographers in Paris along with Maspons, Cualladó, Miserachs, Forcano, Cubaró, Basté, Cantero, Masats, Gómez and Ontañón, work which was exhibited in Barcelona and Madrid respectively.
In 1964 the publisher Lumen released the series The street, El Raval and El Born in a book titled Izas, rabizas y colipoterras, with text by Camilo José Cela, in the Word and Image collection. Shortly after, the press became aware of a possible lawsuit against one of the women pictured. This led to Colom abandoning the practice of photography for a long period, almost until the eighties. It is perhaps this abandonment which was one of the causes of the artist’s lack of recognition by the public until well into the nineties.In 1999 the opening of the exhibition at MNAC The Street by Joan Colom in the Sala Aixelà, 1961. which recreated the only exhibition he held at that time, began the rediscovery of an artist whose photographs of Barcelona represent the portrayal of the collective memory of an entire era.
In 2002 he was awarded the Premio Nacional de Fotografía (National Photography Prize) by the Ministry of Culture. He also received the Medalla de Oro al Mérito Cultural (Gold Medal for Cultural Merit) by Barcelona City Council (2003), the Premio Nacional de Artes Visuales (National Prize for Visual Arts) by the Generalitat de Catalunya (2004) and the Cruz de Sant Jordi (Cross of St. George) (2006), also awarded by the regional government. At the same time as these awards, there were numerous exhibitions dedicated to him such as Resonàncies: Brassaï-Paris/Colom-Barcelona (Fundación Foto Colectania de Barcelona, 2003), Joan Colom. Photographs of Barcelona, 1958-1964 (Fundación Telefónica, Madrid, 2006) by Joan Colom. Les gens du Raval (Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, París, 2006).
In 2012 Colom donated his entire photographic and documentary archive to MNAC in Barcelona, a gesture that was followed the celebration of a great anthology entitled I Work the Street. Joan Colom, photographs 1957-2010.