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Home Culture Photographer Ramón Masats, master of the ironic gaze, dies at 92 | Culture

Photographer Ramón Masats, master of the ironic gaze, dies at 92 | Culture

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Ramón Masats is the author of one of the iconic images of Franco’s Spain, which shows a seminarian trying to stop a shot from another religious man, flying horizontally with his cassock. Religion and football. An image from 1960 that almost synthesized that country. “The priest!”, Masats recalled tiredly of a photograph that he was always asked about and that is part of the collection of the MoMA in New York. Masats always went beyond the mere documentation of society, his character is in his photographs, that of an irony that drew smiles and invited us to stay for several seconds in front of each image, in short, the demonstration that he was an author. . With his death this Monday in Madrid at the age of 92, one of the greatest in the history of national photography disappears, without exaggeration—his generation companion Carlos Pérez Siquier described him as “the Spanish Cartier-Bresson”—and the most prominent of the group that renewed it from the fifties of the last century from different cities and groups. His family has reported that Masats’ mortal remains will be in the M30 Mortuary (Madrid).

However, Masats’ history in photography had stopped years ago, after a commission about the city of Cuenca, a book published in 2007. By then he had lost the illusion of looking through the viewfinder, “like a love that ends.” “, He said. Her physical appearance also confirmed that goodbye to the cameras. “I went from looking through the camera to looking at the ground so as not to give myself a damn,” said this tall, burly man – in his youth he practiced athletics – and with a mustache and messy white hair, with his usual reticence. Ramón always claimed that he was lazy, that in reality what he liked was reading, although he never pedantic about his reading. “He worked like a mule so he could later be lazy,” he commented.

Born in the Barcelona town of Caldes de Montbui, in 1931, the destiny outlined by his father for him was not that of the liquids from the laboratory, but rather the heir of the family salted fish business in the Born market (Barcelona), where he remembered that the neighbors took refuge when the bombs fell during the Civil War.

It was during his military service, in the numerous idle moments, when he began to look through magazines like Photographic art, which sparked his interest in photography and in “snatching” money from his father to raise the amount for a camera. “I told him that he had touched me in a raffle,” he said. “When she found out, he gave me hell.” That sin made it possible for Ramón to start taking family photos. He approached the photographic circle of the Casino de Comercio de Terrassa, where his family had moved the business. There he entered a photography contest about animals and had the idea of ​​taking a close-up of the back of a cow. A fun provocation that was not understood.

His true interest was always “human photography,” he acknowledged. “I just wanted to show what I found,” which was a lot of hunger and poverty. “If you wanted misery you had whatever you wanted.” He never drew blood from those people. It began in 1952, the era of “salonism,” as Oriol Maspons, a friend and fellow generation, defined the stale atmosphere in which, year after year, the same photographers took the same type of close photos to exhibit in the same salons.

Ramón Masats, portrayed at his home in Madrid, in April 2023.Gorka Lejarcegi

Masats could have been the first Spaniard to join the legendary Magnum agency, where he took his photos and they liked them, but they asked him to do a report. For this he needed money, he told his father and he denied it. And there ended his Parisian adventure. However, he decided to try himself at the Sanfermines in Pamplona, ​​in 1956. He spent those days without drinking and among a group of waiters to obtain a book that is probably still unsurpassed today about the great festival, published in 1963. Decades later, in 1998, he shared poster with EL PAÍS bullfighting critic, Joaquín Vidal, in the book Tour.

Those photos of the Sanfermines opened the possibility for him to start collaborating with the prestigious magazine Illustrated Gazette, but since the publication already had collaborators in Barcelona, ​​he decided to go to Madrid in 1957. “You’ll be back,” his father told him. And he didn’t come back. A critic at the time declared upon seeing the photos of him: “she has fallen from the sky.”

In the capital, Ramón frequented the Royal Photographic Society and from there he formed a group that shared the custom of meeting up on Sundays to drink some wine and then take photos each on their own, which he himself baptized as La Palangana. They were the Ontañón, Paco Gómez, Cualladó…

He was also a member of the so-called Afal Group (Almeriense Photographic Association and also the name of the magazine published by Pérez Siquier and José María Artero). An apple introduced photographers who from different parts of Spain shared the desire to tell reality.

While his good eye got one assignment after another in the press, thanks to his friendship with Carlos Saura, with whom he shared hours of poker, he had access to the filming of Viridiana, by Luis Buñuel, in 1961. He would repeat that year in the blockbuster El Cidfrom which he left a great sequence in which Charlton Heston gradually takes off his gentleman’s suit to take a dip on the beach.

Ramón Masats, photographed at his home in Madrid during an interview with EL PAÍS in April 2023.Gorka Lejarcegi

His photography was consolidated as a portrait of Spanish clichés, but without making the typical images, but with a lateral look. His quick instinct and her humor achieved a surprising angle, to turn something ordinary into extraordinary. “You don’t have to look at my photos too much to know what they are about, they are obvious.”

Apart from the iconic photo of the priest (commissioned by Illustrated Gazette), in which he asked his protagonists to repeat the scene up to twenty times, another of his best-known photos is Tomelloso (1960), in which an elderly woman is seen applying an insecticidal product to the floor of her house in a zigzag stripe.

He also left two images of Franco. In one, the dictator’s face is hidden, while he reads a speech, by the microphones and the folder that holds the papers. What you see, the cap, the sash… make up a picture that refers to The great Dictator, by Chaplin. The other was a portrait commissioned by the Caja de Ahorros de Huelva in 1964 that was made of him in El Pardo and in which, with the difficulty of measuring the light because it was a day of light and dark, he ended with a surreal scene in the that the dictator was warning him: “The sun is coming,” “the clouds are coming.” The result was a portrait with a phallic-shaped spot of light pointing at the head of the “generalissimo.”

Likewise, he was a pioneer of a format that unfortunately soon disappeared. Books with photography and texts by top authors launched by the Lumen publishing house. From there came the masterful Neutral corner (1962), in which Ignacio Aldecoa put lyrics to the images of the best film noir that Ramón took of infected gyms in Madrid, with backlights and blurred figures of aspirants to a glory forged by blows. He then repeated with Old stories from Old Castile (1964), with Miguel Delibes. This time the text came first, but Delibes took him by car to the places he thought necessary.

In the middle of that decade, with the popularization of television, Masats saw appeal in that new language. He made documentaries and films, such as The one who teaches, about a village teacher. In 1970 the surrealist arrived Topical Spanish, with a script by Chumy Chúmez, in which a seminarian left his habits to join a yeyé group. “It worked so badly that I didn’t want to do another one,” he admitted.

The following year, he directed the documentary for Spanish Television Insular, about the landscapes of Lanzarote, with music by Luis de Pablo. A rarity that cost him and the director of that network a call from the then general director of TVE, Adolfo Suárez: “If you do another faggot like that again, I’ll kick you out.”

At the beginning of the eighties he returned to photography, now in color, which did not cause problems. He never agreed with “the nostalgia of black and white.” He then wrote more than twenty books for the Lunwerg publishing house, with Juan Carlos Luna and Carmen García at the helm. This allowed him to photograph landscapes, monuments, people and corners throughout Spain. His style becomes more abstract, he focuses on spots of different tones to compose images in which he plays with his shapes.

Ramón Masats poses with his photograph ‘Tomelloso, Ciudad Real, 1960’ for El País Semanal, in November 2018.Chema Conesa

At the turn of the century, Masats grew tired of photography. It is from then on that the recognitions arrive, the National Photography Award in 2004, exhibitions, from the retrospective at the Círculo de Bellas Artes, in 1999; until Tabacalera, in Madrid, in 2020; tributes, as in the Gijón Photographic Meetings; a doctoral thesis, The oak on the moorby Jaime Fuster Pérez, in 2007. Today his images are in the Reina Sofía Museum, the Academy of Fine Arts or the Andalusian Center for Contemporary Art, among others.

In recent decades he was accompanied by his second wife, Paloma, about whom he told how he had gotten closer to her. She “was the neighbor upstairs and when she met her daughter in the elevator she asked her: Is your dad not here?” And in recent times she reviewed her archive with fellow photographer Chema Conesa and her daughter, Sonia, to rescue small gems. Ramón Masats is gone, who, as Caballero Bonald said, possessed “the badge of a teacher.” What remains is the consolation of his work (“it seems that my photos are still liked,” he pointed out in the interview he gave a year ago to this newspaper) and the memory of his generosity towards those of us who were lucky enough to know him.

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