Agustí Centelles

València, 1909 – Barcelona, 1985

grupo autores

The most famous anecdote of the life of Agustí Centelles is related to a suitcase which he carried into exile in 1939 loaded with thousands of negatives from the years of the Republic and the Spanish Civil War. Hidden in France until the death of the dictator, it wasn't until 1978 that its contents reached the general public. Exhibitions, books and interviews in the media made him, not only until his death in 1985 but also at present, the greatest example of the two generations of photojournalists that worked in Barcelona from the beginning of the century to the end of the war.

Born in Valencia from a humble family, he arrived in Barcelona when he was one year old with his father and his grandfather, who came to the Catalan capital in search for a new life after the death of his mother. Settled in the 5th District he had his first contact with photography at a very young age when his father gave him a 10x15 camera as a gift which he started to use in an autodidact way. In 1924, only few months after the foundation of the Agrupació Fotogràcia de Catalunya [Photographic Association of Catalonia], he signed up for a retouch course given by Francesc de Baños, who he convinced to take him on as an apprentice in his studio. The year after he combined this daytime work with an apprenticeship in the photogravure section of the studios of the newspaper El Día Gráfico. In 1927 his life changed in a radical way when he got to know Josep Badosa in the newspaper facilities.

Until then the young man wanted to dedicate his life to the cinema as a cameraman, but that dream gave way to the profession as photo-journalist, profession to which he was introduced by Badosa who he always reclaimed as his master. He worked with him for four and a half years. During the spring of 1931 he joined a short military service and, when he returned Badosa told him that he could no longer maintain him as his assistant and he thus had to look for another job. He found that several months later when Sagarra and Torrents, two of the most recognised photo-journalists of the period, were looking for an assistant after their third partner, Gaspar, had abandoned the business that they had had together. In the Vía Laietana 54, Centelles worked in the laboratory and also as a photo-journalist for them, and in the porter's lodge he got to know the young woman with who he would fall in love and later marry, Eugènia Martí.

1934 was a year of intense professional change for the photographer. Sagarra and Torrents separated and he lost his job once again. It was back then when he, encouraged by his fiancée, decided to become self-employed. Only a few months ago he had bought himself a Leica camera. He started to collaborate with La Vanguardia and, in a very short time, his career took a leap thanks to the pictures he had made during the October Events. Since 1935 the Centelles signature became a regular one in the press in Barcelona, where he published in La Humanitat, La Noche, El Día Gráfico or La Vanguardia. He also published sporadically in the magazines Voilà and Detective of the French publishing house Gallimard and did some collaborations with the press in Madrid, such as the newspaper El Debate or the weekly paper of Mundo Gráfico. Since January 1936 he appeared as the editor of the newspaper Última Hora.

The total consolidation of his profession came to him with the coup d'etat of July 1936, his report of this gained him a broadcasting in the press in Barcelona as well as internationally, such as the weekly magazines Newsweek or L'Illustration. As of August he carried out some trips to the Front in Aragon and he continued doing reports in the rearguard of Barcelona. As of the creation of the Comissariat de Propaganda [Propaganda Committee] of the Generalitat in September 1936, his photos appear in different publications, amongst which the Visions de Guerra i Rereguarda [Visions from the War and the Rearguard] (1937) stands out, posters and exhibitions. In September 1937 he is mobilised as soldier, he did not fight in the front but was posted to Lérida as a photographer where he continued to do reports of the Front in Aragon and the rearguard of Barcelona that were published in the press. By the end of the year he was appointed to take charge of the Gabinete Fotográfico [Photographic Cabinet] of the DEDIDE (the Special Department of State Information). In 1938 this organization became part of the SIM (Military Information Service) and Centelles was appointed as the chief of the Gabinete Fotográfico. As of that moment, his photographic production diminishes significantly.

By the end of January 1939 he was evacuated from Barcelona alongside the whole of the SIM staff, firstly to Figueres and subsequently to Portbou. Before leaving into exile he loaded a suitcase with more than 4.000 universal standard negatives. Facing uncertainty he decided to travel by himself and thus left his wife and his only son, the one year old Sergi, in Barcelona. After having crossed the border walking he was detained in the camp in Argelers during February and, as from the beginning of March and till September, in the Bram camp, of which he left photographic testimony with around 600 photos and written testimony in the form of a personal diary. He gained freedom thanks to a job as a photographer in a studio in Carcassonne. Settled in the capitol of the Aude department he got in touch with the Resistance movement through the Grupo de Trabajadores Extranjeros (GTE) 422 [the Foreign Worker's Group (GTE) 422], made up mainly by Spanish republicans of the PCE ['Partido Comunista de España' - the main Spanish Communist Party]. His task lied in taking photos for false identity documentation and occupying the photographic laboratory of the organisation. In 1944 he returned clandestinely to Barcelona, but before leaving he left the archive safely guarded in Carcassonne.

When he returned to Catalonia he moved to Reus where a part of his mother's family lived, they took them in and offered work at the bakery that they ran. Three years later, in 1947, with the arrival of the second son, Octavi, the family returned to Barcelona. Since then, he worked with industrial and advertising photography until his retirement. During the 1950 he was tried and purged by virtue  of his Freemasonry membership during his childhood. In 1976 he travelled to Carcassonne with his friend Eduard Pons i Prades in order to recover the archive. From 1978 a retrieval process of his name, his work and his personal journey is started through books, exhibitions and academic studies. In 1984 he was awarded the Premio Nacional de Artes Plásticas [the National Award of Visual Arts]. He died in Barcelona in December 1985.

 

Resources: 

Video:

Camp de Bram, 1939 Author: Maite Ninou

Bibliography:

D.A. (2014): Todo Centelles. Madrid:Fundación Pablo Iglesias.

D.A. (2011): Centelles in-edit oh! Madrid: Ministerio de Cultura. 

D.A. (2009): Agustí Centelles. El camp de concentració de Bram, 1939. Barcelona. Actar i Arts Santa Mònica.  [catalan, spanish, french and english edition]

D.A. (2009): La maleta del fotògraf. Barcelona: Ed. Destino. [catalan and spanish edition]

Centelles, Agustí (2009): Diari d’un fotògraf. Bram, 1939. Barcelona: Ed. Destino [catalan and spanish edition]

D.A. (2009): Agustí Centelles. 1909-1985. Arles: Actes Sud. 

D.A. (2006): Agustí Centelles. Les vides d’un fotògraf. Barcelona: Lunwerg i Institut de Cultura de Barcelona. [catalan and spanish edition]

D.A.(2004): Agustí Centelles. València: Plataforma Salvem el Cabanyal. 

Conesa, Chema (1999): Agustí Centelles. La lucidez de la mejor fotografía de guerra. Alcobendas: TF Editores. Colección Photobolsillo. Biblioteca de fotógrafos españoles.

D.A.(1988): Agustí Centelles (1909-1985). Fotoperiodista. Barcelona: Fundació Caixa Catalunya.

Jackson, Gabriel i Agustí Centelles (1982): Catalunya republicana i revolucionària (1931-1939). Barcelona: Ed. Grijalbo.

Pons i Prades, Eduard i Agustí Centelles (1979): Anys de mort i d’esperança. Años de muerte y esperanza. Barcelona: Ed. Blume. 

Acknowledgements: 

Sergi Centelles