at Miguasha National Parc (Nouvelle)
Among the 18,000 negatives deposited at the Arxiu Fotogràfic in Barcelona by the sons of Jacques Léonard, Santi and Alex Léonard, 3,000 are on a Gypsy theme. These photo archives account for the most important of those preserved on the Gypsies of Barcelona and their culture, from 1952 to the mid-1970s.
From the start of his photographic activity, Jacques Léonard took an interest in the life of the Gypsies, having the privilege, after his marriage to Rosario Amaya, of being taken in to that community. He devoted his free time to photographing all aspects of their day-to-day lives with the goal of disseminating and preserving the most significant traditions and characteristics of a culture in the process of being transformed.
The exhibit Gypsies is a selection from those archives, showing Jacques Léonard’s attentive, sincere and respectful look at the Gypsy community.
“The extended Gypsy family called him Payo Chac, and the doors of their homes were open to him. He was authorized to take photos of the interior, even though he was a stranger. That’s what distinguished him from his Barcelona colleagues of the new vanguard (Català-Roca, Miserachs, Maspons, and so on) who, in their forays into this territory, always worked in an external perspective, sociologically and culturally reasserted. Whereas they photographed the Gypsies and their neighborhoods with a paternalistic sense, either censuring the poor housing conditions or in opting for folkloric stagings, Léonard did so as an ethnologist: he documented the culture and the people in a historical and contemporary perspective and conveying an entirely dignified image.” – Jordi Calafell on the exhibition Barcelona gitana
Exhibition at Rencontres
Jacques Léonard (Paris, 1909 – L’Escala, Spain, 1994) decided at the age of 43 to settle definitively in Barcelona and to devote himself professionally to photography. In so doing he broke with a way of life that to that point had led him to travel all over the world.
He was the son of a Roma horse dealer and the owner of a needlework workshop in Paris, and got involved in the film world at a young age. In 1931 he worked as an assistant at a Paris company, before later working on film editing and production tasks that involved his collaborating with different directors, including Abel Gance.
In 1940 he traveled to Spain looking for locations to be used in a movie about Christopher Columbus, which ended up not being made because of the war in Europe. But he met the director of cinematography, who offered him work in Madrid.
In 1952 he settled in Barcelona and fell in love with Rosario Amaya, a Roma woman who worked as an artists’ model. They married, and he became a freelance photographer.
The photographer Francesc Català-Roca provided him with some contacts, and he worked with a number of journals and periodicals: La Vanguardia, La Gaceta Ilustrada, Pomezia, the publication of the bishopric of Barcelona, and Sant Jordi, the journal of the Provincial Council of Barcelona. He set up his own lab devoted to advertising photography.
In 1975, after the demolition of the Gypsy neighborhoods in Barcelona, and because of health problems, he gave up photography and devoted himself to a work project on Gypsy culture, Les quatre fers en l’air (Flat on Your Back), which was never published despite the initial interest of the Paris publishing house Plon, whose specialization was the field of ethnology.
In 1991, with his health worsening, he left for L’Escala (on the Costa Brava, province of Gerona), where he passed away in 1994.