I had never heard of the name Josep Branguli before moving to Barcelona and going to his exhibit at C.C.C.B. This is understandable for as a documentary photographer capturing the urban metamorphosis and social transformations at the beginning of the 20th century he is a single person amongst many. His pictures of small factories employing a handful of people, and the large ones replacing them are done as artfully as the pictures of workers in social setting. Yet these are not unique. What distinguishes Branguli from others is his collection of Spanish Civil War photography.
Branguli was born in 1879 and worked as a photographer in Barcelona from 1909 until his death in 1945. Unlike Capa, Chim and Taro, the photographers most associated with documenting the conflict, Branguli did not have to flee before Franquist troops. This meant that he was not moving around from front to front and was able to document most of the important events of Barcelona. As a well-known resident documenting the conflict but not a member of any of the groups later banned by Franco, Branguli was able to remain in Barcelona and take photos after the Second Republic finally collapsed. In these years Branguli focus shifted from the social and material changes imposed by capitalist logic to the topography of a repressive police state.
One of the events that Branguli captured on cellulose included images from the Tragic Week of 1909. It was during this week that Republicans, Socialists and Anarchists fought against clergy and the army following unrest against pay, working conditions and anti-militarism. It was during this period that many overstated stories that had the intention of delegitimizing the secular parties purportedly initiating the fighting were circulated in the press. One of the news stories circulated to discredit the Republic was that their anarchist allies were digging up the corpses of nuns and priests throughout the region and dancing with them. Branguli’s picture shows that bodies were indeed de-interred, yet subsequent historiography show how this only happened in a few places and was not at all a systematic desecration as was spoken of in Catholic.
This particular picture is interesting not just as it gave validity to the King and Catholic Church’s claims of moral authority but in a way also undermines it. The influence of the Catholic Church in Spain was and still is profound. The peasants at that time, if literate at all, were so only in the teaching of the Bible and the catechism unless they’d been able to be educated in one of Fransisco Ferrer’s handful of modern schools. One of the Catholic articles of faith at the time was that those that who had lived a holy life would decay slower, as evident by the use of holy relics, and thus the picture of the body presents a paradox. To the viewer, the holy body is indeed removed from it’s grave and the body is also not as holy as claimed by the authorities on holiness. What is indeed presented is the same sort of problem as the stinking body of Zosima, something that I doubt would have been lost by Branguli.
Another important event that Branguli was able to visually preserve for posterity was the funeral procession of Buenavetta Durruti, an Italian anarchist activist and writer inspired like many others to leave their homelands and come to Spain in order to assist the Second Republic from a fascist military coup. He was, however, shot and killed after only a week in Spain. Despite his marginal role in the war, the numbers of people clearly show that he was someone that gave voice to many of those fighting for their lives.
Also captured by Branguli was the arrival of Heinrich Himmler in October in 1940. His presence is not only evidence of the collusion between Fascist Spain and Nazi Germany, but hints at the deeper collaboration between these two nations. This shouldn’t be too surprising considering that Spain did in 1492 part of what Germany was then attempting to accomplish. Thus, with the lessons of the Peninsular War surely at the back of their minds, the Gestapo and Spanish secret police sought to root out the Catalan nationalists and other classes that might rupture their organicist ideals.
While Branguli’s work was published in several Spanish revistas I’ve yet to find evidence that he was published outside of it. After the war in Spain, it was a taboo issue inside the country and the rest of the world now shifted their attention to the conflict building up into a fever pitch around Germany. Thus that he is still somewhat of a hometown secret becomes more understandable, though perhaps with a little bit of luck some sixty plus years after his death he’ll be getting the recognition that he deserves.