Josep Planas i Montanyà


Josep Planas’ life was very much tied in with the utopia of tourism. It was also, however, about a sometime athlete, an entrepreneur who tripped upon success, and a man who discovered poetry through images. Josep Planas i Montanyà was, among many other things, a photographer, a compulsive collector and the founder of Casa Planas, in whose archives a great part of the history of tourism in Spain lies.

It would perhaps be very bold to say that Josep Planas invented the postcard but he was, nonetheless, the first to understand the commercial potential of the concept. Planas opened his first store in 1947 and closed the last one in 2002. Following almost six decades of uninterrupted activity, his archives now slumber next to the remains of the old Cinema Lumière. The Sant Ferran warehouse is a reflection of his whole life: a passion for the sea; discovering the idea of a souvenir; a scene at dusk with a forty-year history; a helicopter; working as a correspondent for Televisión Española; and the vestiges of twenty-two stores focused on nurturing a collective fantasy: tourism as a means of escape.

Mallorca, where young Joseph Planas landed in October 1945, was undergoing difficult times and impoverished, as was the rest of Spain following the war. It had an ageing population, an agrarian economy in crisis and an industrial sector that couldn’t manage to get off the ground, though the black market did manage to generate and consolidate certain local fortunes.

Once in Palma, the Planas family chose to live in the middle-class neighbors of the city that, before 1936, had served as spots for summer homes for both local residents and foreigners. First they settled in the higher part of El Terreno and later moved to Son Armadans. The changes of residency reflect the family’s growing prosperity starting in the 1950s, and serve as a symbol of the transformation the island was also undergoing as it moved from crisis to euphoria, due to the tourist boom.

Little by little, Casa Planas developed into an economically profitable business based, on a top-down organizational structure. That is, in part, due to its always staying one step ahead of the demand, and also fully committing itself —almost single-mindedly—to Casa Planas’ link with the tourist sector. And so, Planas equipped himself with a Lube motorcycle, allowing him quick freedom of movement, and a convertible car that not only impressed the locals, but was convenient for photographing certain spots. Soon after, he opened a series of shops both in Palma and in such outskirt areas as Son Alegre and Can Pastilla that, over time, would become highly popular tourist magnets.

Josep Planas’ empire came together because local circumstances played into that. Apart from the good timing regarding the birth of mass tourism and the burgeoning hotel industry, Planas fostered a good relationship with the local and foreign media, operated a very diversified business and was daring enough to buy a helicopter. Nevertheless, Casa Planas is one of many examples of businesses that fed into an economic revival in Spain as envisioned under the Franco regime.

Most of Josep Planas’ photographic and cinematographic work was created within this context and with an eye towards the tourists, the hotel industry and the institutions and businesses encouraging the transformation of the island into a first-rate leisure getaway destination. Precisely because of that, Josep Planas also maintained good relationships with the tabloid press.

Planas took on significant business risks because he fully believed in Mallorca’s potential to grow during the ‘60s, the first years of the tourist boom. But it was not that alone; he also understood the unlimited possibilities for an image of Europe enjoying an economic bonanza and looking for nearby places for rest and relaxation which could transmit the enthusiasm of the moment (despite the Cold War) through media outlets..

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The Casa Planas reports were basically in-house commissioned productions. They cover events of every sort—from weddings and baptisms to class photos, social or touristic events, institutional and sports news—but they can be broken down into two major groups: social reporting and journalistic reporting. As a result, the images fall into clearly defined generic categories and fit in with the established iconic codes and usual rhetorical gestures which subtly change according to the particular moment in time. Directly or indirectly, and more or less explicitly, the images hark back to the period in which they were captured; in other words, to Mallorca as it was between 1945-1970 and, more specifically, to the autarchic post-war years and the development taking place in the 1960s.