Born in Italy, this senior member of the photo-journalists of Barcelona was amongst one of the most famous persons of the Catalan capital during the first decades of the past century. He was the first in using motorbike much aware of the required mobility of the profession, a pioneer with the side-car, a precise watchmaker, an inventor of his own photographic devices and the ladder which made him famous, positioning himself above the others this way yielding different point of views. In possession of an extroverted and pleasant personality, one of his most characteristic gestures was to distribute sweets amongst the people that he portrayed.
Alessandro Merletti arrived to Barcelona in 1889 from Argentina, country where he had lived until that moment. Initially he settled in the Catalan capital in order to practise as a watchmaker. In the new century he focused his activity towards photography, collaborating with the Catholic weekly La Hormiga de Oro and the Argentinian magazine Caras y Caretas (1898-1941). Soon his career shifted crucially, when he became stringer in Barcelona for Prensa Gráfica Co., firm which was dedicated to graphic magazines. He worked with it for three decades between the various publications that were being created: Nuevo Mundo, Mundo Gráfico, La Esfera and Crónica. At the same time he started to receive offers from abroad, amongst which is worth emphasising head journals such as the British newspaper Daily Mirror (1903), pioneer in the use of the image, and the veteran magazines the French L'Illustration (1843-1944) or the Italian L'Illustrazione (1873-1962).
The prestige of his work, of a rather superior quality compared to his contemporaries, is due to the machines that he himself built in his studio, the speed with which he delivered his works -because he moved around riding his motorcycle- and the ladder which made him famous in the city, from which he gained new point of views. Amongst the thousands of photos that he took one resumes his working method well and turned out to be one of his most reproduced snapshots. In 1909, during the trial of Francesc Ferrer Guardia, the Italian challenged the prohibition of getting photos during the process, he made a micro-camera that he hid under his clothes and this way he was able to photograph the accused waiting for the sentence that would lead to his death.
The jobs multiplied and he hired Manuel Mateo as assistant. La Vanguardia, Diario de Barcelona or El Día Gráfico reclaimed their photos alongside other famous magazines such as L'Esquella de la Torratxa. Simultaneously he began introducing himself in advertising photography working for different businesses and industries as well as institutions, for example the Turin World Exhibition in 1911.
The amount of work was increasing and his wife helped out by doing tasks in the laboratory as well as managing the archive, and, as of 1915, his son Camilo started as photo-journalist. The 20's was a decade of stability, full dedication to the work and implication in the profession, considering that in 1921 he was one of the founders of the Agrupació de Repòrters Gràfics [Group of Photo-Journalists] of Barcelona.
During the Republic, although his political sympathies pointed towards the Italian fascism and an admiration of the monarchy, his photographic activity continued normally. Over the years his position had improved visibly, until the point where he abandoned the motorcycle to move around by car and with a chauffeur. Father and son kept being active during the Spanish Civil War, connected like the rest of the photo-journalists to the Agrupació Professional de Periodistes [Professional Group of Journalists] (UGT) [Unión General de Trabajadores – On of the mayor Spanish trade unions], although details are unknown. In 1938 they were detained for some weeks, accused of sympathising with the Primo de Rivera regime. He was so popular that the General Director of Security of the Republic himself, Eduardo Cuevas de la Peña, rapidly commanded his release soon after Christmas. After this experience, from which he didn't recover, he abandoned the camera delegating all in hands of his son.
Bibliografia: Galmes Miquel, Jordi Hernández i Pep Paper (2011): Merletti i l’esport al primer terç del segle XX. Barcelona. Institut d’Estudis Fotogràfics de Catalunya i Club Lleuresport.
Article: Parer, Pep (2003): El fons fotogràfic de la nissaga dels Merletti: mig segle de fotoperiodisme
Clementina Llopis Merletti