The meeting is in his apartment in Madrid, and on the second attempt: on the first, Ramón Masats (Caldas de Montbui, 1931) excused himself, alleging that his respiratory problems had given him a bad night and made him unwell for the interview. This time he also apologized between coughs and was equally tired. 89 years and many kilometers behind him have not passed in vain for this simple man, of few words, but extremely kind, whose formidable photographic production is now the object of a great retrospective at the Tabacalera in Madrid. Surrounded by books and works of art by some illustrious friends, and assisted by his wife, Paloma, Masats clearly orders a cigarette contraindicated and agrees to remember the journalist.
A trip to the dream world of Chema Madoz, the place where a cloud can be a tree
Remember what it was like to look before we all had cameras in our pockets?
My gaze was normal. When I bought a camera, it did change everything: I started looking for irony, and other things. And it changed the way of looking, of feeling. For example, I was walking down the street with the camera, and looking for things that might interest me. When I stopped taking pictures, my gaze changed again. I was, let’s say, normal again. I hope!
Your last photo, do you remember it?
[Lo piensa morosamente] No … All I remember is that I realized it was over. But the last photo, no, I have never thought about it …
What did Catalan photographers of your generation have? Many of them were great professionals with a huge personality.
Well, I don’t know, it must have been the Photographic Association of Catalonia, which brought together many young people and made us meet often, and we all learned to look at each other in a different way. And the old men of the Royal Society were on their side, and we on the other, and little by little we tried to change it. We coincided with a series of magazines that brought us together, discussed, chatted … Then, here in Madrid, I also met a young generation that was following that search. And the Afal magazine was the one that ended up bringing us all together, the Catalans, the people of Madrid, the Andalusians …
It is striking that there were so few women, with exceptions like Colita. Do we know what it was?
There were fewer women artists, there were fewer women in all professional fields. They were apart from us. There was no interest in talking to them, there was a lot of machismo. Colita is Colita, she was always very forward. She entered photography as secretary of [Oriol] Maspons began to meet photographers who we thought were different from most, and with that character he has, he said: ‘I’m going to dedicate myself to this’.
Juana Biarnés is also from that time…
Juana Biarnés was also from Tarrasa, I don’t remember how we met. But we went with a motocarro on Sundays to take photos, we had a great time.
There was a time when people were struck by the extraordinary fact of looking at a camera. How did they behave before the lens?
A man with a camera was a strange object. It was a bit of a weird thing. They froze, or made faces … But they couldn’t be indifferent.
Has photographer work changed anything else?
It was the same as now, you take the car, you go to such a place, you take a walk to see what you find … I have always been very fond of Andalusia, I find it wonderful …
Traditionally we have gotten very well Andalusians and Catalans, although now the flags are separating people a bit, don’t you think?
The mother who gave birth to them … We hardly spoke to some relatives of Catalonia. Not because we have quarreled, but as soon as we go there, to Paloma, for being from Madrid, some pullita falls on her.
I must ask him about his photos of Franco, with or without a face. Do you remember what those jobs were like?
The portraits were commissioned by me. I was very surprised, but I couldn’t say no. It came because some architects from Huelva asked me to do a report on the province to decorate the site of the Huelva savings bank, or something like that.
I did the job, they liked it, and they told me: by the way, our branch manager is a friend of Franco, and he tells me if you could take pictures of him. Yes, if it is a commission like any other. We don’t talk about it anymore, three weeks or so ago they call me from El Pardo. “Is it Ramón Masats? Well, come next Thursday to El Pardo to take photos of His Excellency.” How do you say no?
There is no way, of course.
I showed up with a 600 in the palace, I took some photos, and in the end I wanted to do some close-ups next to a window. I never like to carry light bulbs or flashes, I only work with a window light. “Excellency, sit here, look at me …” All normal. He was already fond of photography, so I was already with the photometer, a device to measure light that no longer exists …
I take the light, put the relevant diaphragm, I take a photo, two, I put the photometer again, and the third time he says: “And why do you measure me so much with that?”. “Well look, Excellency, on a cloudy day as it does today, if the clouds cover the sun or clear it, everything changes,” I explained. “Well, you focus on the camera, which I am indicating to you: it is going to be sunny, it is going to make shade …” And so it was.
For the rest, was it a docile model?
Yes, no problem. He was relaxed and well.
I guess you have your political ideas, but they can’t interfere with work, right?
Well no, nor can you reject it. Anyway.
There is a great portrait with the microphone in front of which you can barely see the peaked cap. Was it in the Plaza de Oriente or …?
I don’t know if it was in Salamanca, or around … But the moment I saw that the portrait worked without a face, I do remember that one perfectly. He represented the Great Dictator, who can be anyone.
Did you notice any tickling when you said to yourself “I have it”?
Boy, when I took a good photo, I felt it in my heart. Sometimes when you revealed it, what you thought would not come out, but rarely.
And others it was the other way around, wasn’t it? Have you not had surprises?
Not! It’s curious. Finding a photo that I hadn’t intentionally shot, that didn’t happen.
Have you ever thought if there was a desacralizing intention in your photos?
I think, intuitively, yes. I don’t know if desacralizing was a lot to ask, but you could give your opinion through photography. It was an irreverent way of being, although my way of being never married hooliganism. I knew she played sensitive things, but I had no big problems.
Boxing, bulls … You have portrayed worlds that were very popular and have been marginalized, don’t you think?
With the bulls you reflect and yes, there is a part of cruelty, poor animal … But at first I liked them. The look there has changed a lot, before nobody asked those things. I still like boxing. If they put it on television, I see it. It is not like in those days when, before I even started photography, I was going to see combat. I think boxing is more pure than bullfighting, although it is more artistic. Boxing is a man against a man, while the other is man against an animal that all he knows is to ram.
And how was the relationship of photographers with writers? You had many friends in that guild.
Quite a few. I always had a very good connection with them. I already knew the work of more or less all of them, and they knew my photographs. For my part there was a lot of respect, for his I think also, and that is shown in what they wrote and photographed. What happens is that I have always been a very lonely person, and outside of casual encounters, I did not spend much time alternating with them.
Which authors did you like?
I liked Pla a lot. I have it whole, upstairs. Delibes too …
Was it the same communion that you had with plastic artists? Now there is not so much connection between guilds.
Yes, it has been lost, but in our time the friendship of painters and photographers was quite common. It usually started when you had to do a job for a magazine, “We are going to do one thing about this painter.” You were going, you knew him, and that facility was already established. Surely with [Antonio] Saura was the one I made the most friendship with.
Can you tell me the story of the portrait you made of him, dressed in a cassock?
There is no story … one day I went to his house for something, and he told me: “look, I did this to you”. And I am very happy. There’s no more.
That image of the football game at the seminar, can you remember what it was like?
It was a commission from the Madrid seminar. I asked what the seminarians normally did, I got a football match, and that’s how the photo got me. It has no more mystery.
And the lady who paints around the house?
I still haven’t gotten exactly what that woman was doing. Once we even had a meal with painters and writers, a small group of six or seven people, and nobody knew what that lady was doing. The prevailing opinion was that it isolated the cellars from flies or mosquitoes, since all the houses had one underneath.
What do you like about photography today? Do you follow what others do?
I do not know the Spanish photography of now. Neither the foreign one. I said it’s over, and it’s over. I don’t even look at catalogs. Nothing.
For a photographer, seeing so many people now that they don’t even look around anymore, crazy with obsessive self-portraits.
If people have fun … The camera can also be used for that. I find it strange that before a monument they are more interested in a photo of you than looking for the light, the frame … But hey, if you like it that way, they don’t hurt anyone.
Do you remember ever taking a self-portrait?
Any advice for someone who continues to cultivate photography?
Don’t fall asleep. I don’t have much more to say, what you have to do will come from within, with passion. I no longer have a passion for knowing, I am already on other paths.
The photograph will forgive you, you already gave him a lot.
I hope, I hope. But come on, I don’t care. I have already worked, a lot, with great enthusiasm. I used to like that very much. But now, when one is old … I have to rest, I have stuck a few sticks of milk.