By virtue of both age and dedication, Frederic Ballell Mayami’s name and work are inseparably bound up with the birth of photojournalism in Catalonia. One of the first photographers to apply his trade to journalistic reporting, Ballell was born in Guayama, Puerto Rico, in 1864, and moved to Barcelona to study industrial engineering at the age of 16.
Ballel’s first editorial photograph was published thanks to Fernando Rus, an enthusiastic shop-owner and supplier photographic products – and himself a photographer –, who backed the publication of a series of notebooks entitled Barcelona a la vista (Barcelona in View) in the late nineteenth century. For a second series at the turn of the century, Ballell took some of the photographs of urban views of Barcelona, with an 18 x 24 glass plate camera.
But if there was one thing Ballell excelled at it was photojournalism, which became his main focus from 1903 onwards when he began contributing to magazines such as Ilustració Catalana, Feminal and L’Esquella de la Torratxa. Until 1917, he devoted himself to photographing numerous events, and his images were published in the aforesaid magazines as well as La Hormiga de Oro and Barcelona Atracción. He also contributed to Madrid-based magazines such as Blanco y Negro and La Esfera.
Ballell’s first colleagues were Adolf Mas and Fernando Rus, who produced high-quality but rather descriptive and static images. But with the advent of new requirements and the emergence of younger professionals – such as Josep Brangulí and Alessandro Merletti, and then Josep Maria Sagarra, Pablo Luis Torrents, Josep Badosa and Josep Maria Co de Triola – the photographic image changed and became more dynamic and incisive.
In 1907 and 1908 Ballell produced some of his most exceptional work when he systematically photographed the ambiance of Las Ramblas in Barcelona, from one end to the other. The photographs do not respond to criteria of newsworthiness or currency. They were not published in the press and they appear reflect Ballell’s personal interest in capturing the life of the city through the human environment of this emblematic Barcelona avenue.
In 1944, when he was eighty years old, Frederic Ballell contacted Barcelona City Council, concerned about his photographic legacy and hoping that the city would safeguard the fruits of his career. The collection was incorporated into the Arxiu Històric de la Cituat in 1945.
[Source: Torrella, Rafel, “Frederic Ballell Maymí” in Gonzalez, P. [et. al.]. (2015) Repòrters gràfics, Barcelona 1900-1939. Ajuntament de Barcelona]
TORRELLA, RAFEL (2000): Frederic Ballell fotoperiodista. Barcelona: Arxiu Fotogràfic de Barcelona.