The photographic legacy of Josep Planas Montanyà is a faithful testimony to Mallorca’s fast-growing international tourism during the 1950s and 1960s. Born in Cardona (Catalonia) in 1924, he spent most of his life working as a photographer after settling on the island at the end of his compulsory military service. Planas died in 2016 but his work lives on, like a portrait that immortalises the Mallorcan tourism boom, thanks to the archive of his work that has been conserved by his granddaughters.
Born into a family of millers and blacksmiths, Planas started taking photographs when he was just 16. As he once reminisced in an interview, “I was given a camera on my Patron Saint’s day and I first used it when I climbed up Montserrat to fulfil a promise after the end of the Civil War.” Completely self-taught, the budding young photographer developed his passion alongside his love of sports, participating as an athlete in the European Athletic Youth Championships in Italy in 1942, as well as completing his military service obligations.
His military service was to be the start of his long-lasting relationship with the island. Stationed at barracks in Palma, Planas arrived with his inseparable camera and an inherent love of taking photos. “After my military service, I decided to stay on and work as a photographer as the city offered me so many possibilities,” he said at the time. He opened his first shop in 1947 in the Calle Colón, which was the birth of the company Casa Planas. In the beginning his work was mainly focussed on photographing sporting events, the theatre and regional costumes, all of which helped cement his burgeoning reputation. The next leap forward was in 1955 with the opening of his company’s headquarters in Calle Antonio Maura.
Casa Planas grew to a substantial size with twenty-one establishments and a staff of 160. The most successful product during the tourist boom was the sale of postcards. Up to 25,000 copies of La Seu could be sold in one year. Other monuments such as Bellver Castle, la Llotja or images of the port sold on average around five thousand copies a year. Added to this was his photojournalistic work, with around eight hundred commissions a year.
The frantic activity at Casa Planas had it high points. Apart from the sale of postcards and tourism promotion, Josep Planas worked for entities such as the Ministry of Development, the Chamber of Commerce and actively collaborated with the Ministry of Tourism and Information. The latter, headed by the minister Manuel Fraga, with whom Planas struck up a working relationship, commissioned him to produce the promotional brochures and posters for Mallorca.
One of the innovations introduced by Planas, which immortalised his postcards from a different perspective, was his pioneering use of aerial photography. As his granddaughter Marina recalls, “at first he took the photos from a small plane but he soon realised that it would be better to invest in a helicopter as he was the first person to use this technique.” The photographer declared in an interview that the helicopter “was a platform that allowed me to photograph hotels and beaches from any height or angle,” and besides, “flying is great fun,” he confessed.
In those days, Mallorca was also attracting the attention of many celebrities from all over the world. Movie stars and cultural personalities visited the islands, along with he thousands of tourists who descended on Palma by air or sea during the summer months. In this regard, the activity of Josep Planas was fundamental in immortalising the image of these well-known faces during their stay to boost tourism.
“The hotel managers all called me when someone famous checked in,” said Planas, who cited Joan Fontaine, Douglas Fairbanks, Gustav Fröhlich, Cela, Errol Flynn, Charles Chaplin, Yvonne De Carlo, John Ulbricht and Anthony Kerrigan among the many famous actors he met. This connection led to working collaborations with Fotogramas magazine and the French publication Cine Monde.
Marina Planas fondly recalls one of her grandfather’s famous anecdotes, when the actress Joan Fontaine travelled down from the Hotel Formentor to Palma to visit the Casa Planas store on Calle Colón. “She caused a great commotion because back then people weren’t used to seeing Hollywood movie stars on our streets,” she said, “even the tram tracks around Plaza de Cort were blocked by the crowds.”
Planas was also in touch with cultural and artistic personalities such as Francesc de Borja Moll, Joan Miró, Camilo José Cela, Blai Bonet and Baltasar Porcel, who once said that Casa Planas “was a unique photography school on the island.” The old photographic factory and laboratory in Palma were converted into a cultural and creativity centre four years ago, promoted by his granddaughter Marina Planas along with other creative people. The building, which had been disused since 2002, has a surface area of 2,400 square metres. It was full of old photographic machines, photographs and negatives, which have all now been collected, classified and organised with the aim of creating a museum in the future.
Marina, who has a degree in Audiovisual Communication, has experience working as a video-artist, writer and cultural manager in Barcelona and New York. “It was a lot of hard work to create our grandfather’s archive,” she confesses. The most noteworthy images from the collection are now ready to be exhibited. “Creating a museum dedicated to the legacy of Josep Planas is a costly project and we need the involvement of institutions and organisations related to tourism, which was after all, the main subject of his life’s work,” she points put.
Planas’ photographs are waiting to be digitalised by the Consell de Mallorca, but, as Marina urges, “it is a painfully slow process because there is a backlog but it is urgent if we want to avoid the risk of losing the invaluable and irreplaceable collection through the passing of time.” The photographer’s granddaughter describes how the vast collection “is a portrait of the past that teaches us about our environment and how it was evolving,” adding that the 1950s and 1960s “were a turning point in the development of the city and the island, which my grandfather immortalised through his work.”
Pau Ferragut / Archivo Casa Planas