Texto do libro Álbum Arquivo José María Massó publicado polo Centro de Estudos Fotográficos en 2000. ISBN: 84-87882-14-5

Manuel Sendón

Xosé Luis Suárez Canal

With the establishment of a salting factory in Bueu in 1816, the Catalan industrialist Salvador Massó Palau started his business activity in Galiza. In 1882 his sons went into partnership with the French firm Dargenton & Domingo and created, as a result of the latter’s technological contribution, the canning factory La Perfección. In 1895 the society broke up and Salvador and Gaspar Massó founded the firm Massó Hermanos, which continued to work until 1925. In 1929 the firm was turned into a public limited company whose partners were Salvador Massó Ferrer and Gaspar’s children (José María, Gaspar, Montserrat and Antonio Massó García). 

A text of the expert in our industrial history, Joam Carmona says: “In 1930 and 1931 Massó was part, together with Antonio Alonso and J. R. Curbera, of the top group of canning firms in Galiza. That year it was among the top ten firms of any kind. After the war, with the opening of the factory in Cangas, the biggest in Europe, it became the first Spanish canning firm. From a technological point of view, they were also outstanding. They registered several continuous processes for the canning work.” In the following decades they opened new factories in Avilés (Asturias) and Barbate (Murcia). 

The two factories, Bueu and Cangas, continued to work until 1992 when Bueu was closed down and 1996 when Cangas was also closed down. 

The brothers José María and Gaspar Massó were also shipowners, and participated, among other fishing business initiatives, in the establishment of M.A.R.. In the fifties they opened a whale factory in Cangas. Later they went into partnership with another one in Caneliñas and established Industria Ballenera S.A., setting up also in Moras (Lugo).

José María Massó García was born in Bueu in 1899 and during all his life he was connected with activities related to the sea, both because of the character of his family firm and because of his relationship with sea sports or the study of subjects closely related to the sea. As a result of this activity he wrote the book Barcos en Galicia. De la prehistoria hasta hoy del Miño al Finisterre1, something which always fascinated him, and where he even defines the ship as something alive. He also made an archaeological, geographical and historical study of Bueu and the region, following, according to Filgueira Valverde prologue writer of the abovementioned book, the plan of work previously started by the Seminario de Estudos Galegos, a plan whose paradigm was Terra de Melide.

Together with his brother Gaspar he founded the Sea Museum in Bueu. Gaspar had been one of the founders of the Pontevedra Museum, and had been the one in charge of studying the history of canning, publishing Origen y desarrollo de la industria conservera en Galicia (1967).

Apart from these activities, José María Massó was the mayor of Bueu between 1932 and 1971.

His love for photography was born at the beginning of the twenties, a time when he made a great number of pictures in Africa during the war. They are 4.5×6 photographs, printed by contact and included, most of them, in a monographic album. Once the war was over he travelled to England with the purpose of practicsing his English and at the same time taking pictures.

During the second half of the twenties he developed an enormous photographic activity, using a 6×9 and 9x12cm. format camera. That was the time when, without any doubt, he made his most interesting pictures. Particularly the ones he took in the trips the group made to the nearby beaches. Some of them are specially interesting today and allow us to have an idea of how the upper classes of the time enjoyed themselves. The glamour of those pictures with the sunshades, bathing cabins, groups of happy girls very well dressed in clothes that today look strange but that are quickly recognized as those of the crazy twenties, reminds us of the wonderful images of the Belle epoque by Jacques-Henri Lartigue. We cannot forget to make a special reference to some of the photographs, such as the one of the three girls posing on board a brigantine with their bathing caps and suits which today are a marvellous symbol of some aspects of that time.

The group portraits, which are always charming and from a sociological or ethnographic point of view are extremely rich, are reinforced by the attractive of seeing a little boy with a camera2 focusing the photographer in one of the pictures. 

In his images it can be noticed the great concern he had for the body. This can be seen, for example, in the jumps on the sand or the divings of the fisherman Sesina from the brigantine El Industrial which fascinated them so much and produced the result of beautiful photos; or the photograph of the gymnastic exhibition they made standing on the ropes which held the mast of the brigantine. A beautiful example of the body structure is the picture of the four young men in swimming trunks. This kind of images are basically of men because, despite a certain liberalism that can be seen in the pictures, the men’s games were much more active, and the women’s bathing suits made it impossible to show their bodies whereas the men were allowed to. When looking at these photographs we must take into account how different that society was from our present society (in customs, rules of conduct and prejudices), even in the most liberal groups. As an anecdote it can be mentioned the scolding that the five girls received for posing on the sand, in a totally innocent way, looking at the camera and with their feet high3

The festive and happy atmosphere which characterizes all these images is very clear in the staging of games led by José María Arnau, which were photographed by Gaspar Massó. In a 16 mm. film- he shot with cameras of different formats- he filmed short comic episodes linked by humorous sentences, which correspond to some of the images included in this book. Particularly the photograph of some crouched men in line with a face painted on their buttocks which correspond with a film where these men are coming out of a cave on the beach walking backwards. The photographs where they are disguised with capes made of straw correspond with others where they represent a cannibal tribe.

On their trips to the beach the presence of the designer Federico Ribas was something usual. He was a friend of the family who appears in some of the pictures4 and was probably the one who designed the drawing on the canoe Tutankammen5.

The interest for the body was a characteristic of that time and many of the most innovating photographers are a good example of this, from the surrealists to the ones that can be placed in the New Vision, although both José María and Gaspar went much further, paying special attention to the nudes. 

Some of the pictures, presented here in 8×10 cm. prints, are specially attractive. They are remarkable for their formal value with marked high-angle shots, like those of the chimneys, low angle shots, like the photograph taken from the mast of the brigantine, and fragmentations of mechanical objects, like the headlight of his car, being clear in them an interest in emphasizing the geometrical compositions. 

In 1929 he married María de los Ángeles Bolívar, and his brother married her sister Amalia- both appear in many of the group portraits made on the beach. This fact, together with his father’s death, which left him and his brothers in charge of the firm, took him to a diffferent personal situation in which he did not have the same spare time as in previous years, but he did have different family responsibilities. That’s why the images of youth games were substituted by others of his children, without the photographic and sociological interest the former albums had. Nevertheless, there are still some pictures of playful activities, like those of the hunting in Antela lagoon.

During his honeymoon he made photographs of the cities they visited. Some of the Eiffel Tower and the Douro docks in Port, are marked by formal compositions based on strong low angle shots, characteristic of the experimental photography of the New Vision common at that time. Others, on the contrary, are based on the usual composition of setting the figure, his wife, in the different monuments and cities, under the typical arch which closes the image. 

There are also those some photographs reflecting the manners of his time, like those of the children in Bussaco and Beluso in 1929 where we can see, as it is usual in this kind of pictures, people from “other” social groups with a very different way of life from the one reflected in the other photographs mentioned before.

Many of his pictures belong to the world of fishing and ships. In them we can see from the majestic brigantines under full sail to the simple boats for catching octopus with their lateen or “mystic” sails, or the different kinds of fishing boats they built, boats which were called with their surname followed by a number. Through these photographs of ships we can follow their evolution as the size of their chimneys decreases as well as the smoke which enveloped them when they were sailing. Because of his connections to the sea, he was also very fond of sailing, taking part in an active way in the organization of sailing activities. From these activities are kept a great number of testimonial pictures, which, from a photographic point of view, do not have the interest of the ones selected for this book.

The series of images of the fishing tackle made in in the fifties in medium format with his Rollei camera, deserves a separate chapter. They are photographs of short angle where the object was isolated, something that clearly shows the vision of an ethnographer. They are objects which, at the time, were about to disappear or be transformed. In this way, through these pictures, of a very clean composition, we have the image of the old long-line fishing lines made of string and of the corks of the nets which had not been substituted by plastic yet.

Gaspar Massó also shot films of a clear ethnographic and historic interest, like the fishing in the thirties which, both for the clothes and for the way of fishing depicted, remind us of those taken by José Suárez in Morrazo in the thirties. Some others are centered on the work in the factories in Cangas during the forties, the cutting into pieces of the whales, the unloading of the fish in the factory they had in Barbate, the visit of the King and Queen…

José María Massó took photographs during all his life and, despite his age in the seventies he still made a great number of colour slides (6×6 cm.)


Of a very different kind are those photographs connected with the industrial activity of the family. Photographs and, basically, plates of 9×12, 13×18 and 18×24 format, ordered to several professional photographers to be used in the publicity of his cans.

The selection of images for this book has been done according to their photographic interest, without trying to make an exhaustive study of the different industrial processes. Nevertheless the possibility of subsequent studies specifically centered on the industrial characteristics, the machinery, and the products made in the different Hermanos Massó factories, is still open.

We present here two series of images, one related to the old factory in Bueu and another to the new factory built also in Bueu in 1926. In the first series, apart from the image between the two centuries about the salting of fish and another of the transition where the fresh anchovy coexists with the canned one, we also include a wide collection of pictures made in the twenties, something that makes us think that they were ordered for the catalogue published by the firm in French and Spanish in 19246. This was an extraordinary publication, from the historic, sociological, ethnographic and aesthetic point of view. With a magnificent design made by Federico Ribas, in its 44 pages we can find from a brief history of the firm to cooking tips, as well as an illustrated catalogation in colour of the different cans made. Besides the drawings, it has 25 photographs about the ellaboration process in the old factory in Bueu, many of them reproduced in this book. In the archive there is also a series about the unloading of the fish, and the women with the fish baskets, some of them made by Pacheco and some unsigned, making it impossible to identify the author.

Regarding the plates made in the old factory, the authors remain unknown too. They are technically good and very interesting from a photogrpahic point of view. In them are reflected the different steps of the canning process, the mechanical workshops and the warehouse where the cans were packed. These photographs show us clearly the differences between the industrial processes of that time and the present day ones, non electrical engines, and places of work full of pulleys and huge machines to which the camera paid great attention. From our present day point of view it is remarkable the number of employees, mostly women, except in the workshops where the men worked, who participated in the process. The pictures are clearly set, there are no spontaneous photos, both due to the exposure time needed (sometimes the women appear blurred), and to the fact that their purpose was publicity, so they needed to be correctly organized. That is why it can be noticed that the women, despite being at work, are dressed in their most elegant dresses, far from the usual clothes they wore at work.

There is also a picture of a well dressed woman posing in the dock with a fish basket and another one in which she is wearing the same clothes and is surrounded by cans and mussel shells where we can see the unnatural pose and the sophistication of the images.

Another series included here is the one made in the new factory in Bueu which, we think, might have been made shortly after its opening in 1926. We cannot be certain of the authors of the plates, but the existence of an album with 13 Barreiro prints, 25×19.5 cm. sepia toned, makes us think that he could be the one who took the photographs. Two of these pictures were printed, in a smaller size, by other photographers, one by Pacheco and another one by Sarabia7.

Among the pictures of the new factory in Bueu, there are some which present a global view of the industrial premises where the metallic structure can be fully appreciated, a structure which was quite innovating compared to the old factory. There are also images of the whole ellaboration process with the new machines clearly reflected in them.

It is remarkable the photogrpah with a display designed by Ribas on the right, a display whose model was Ribas’s wife, and with a text both in Galician and Spanis, something strange for that time.

Finally, we also include a number of photographs among which there is one by Ocaña of a global view of the factory the Massó bought in the thirties (Salgueirón, Cangas); and two of the new factory in Cangas, which we mentioned above, just opened.

The group of images about canning of this archive has, from a documentary point of view, a unique and extraordinary value since we do not know any other series about this topic which might be comparable to this. And, because of the great economic importance that the canning industry has had in our history, it is obvious that we are looking at a really important archive of our heritage.

The data referring to the firm Hermanos Massó S.A. were collected from conversations with Tomás Massó Bolívar, son of José María, and with Joam Carmona, as well as from the catalogue published in 1924 and from the newspaper article “Massó Hermanos. Líder mundial de la sardina” by Luisa Muñoz, published in the collection Grandes empresas, grandes historias de Galicia of La Voz de Galicia.


1 Published by Deputación de Pontevedra and reprinted in 1992.

2 Pages 49 and 50.

3 Page 31.

4 In one of them he appears next to a sand mermaid designed by himself (p. 39) and in others, the one of the sunshade (p.35), his head is poking out humorously.

5 Page 27.

6 Both edition are identical except for the page where there is a reference to the 1st World War. They include therefore the same pictures and the same pagination. Printed in Hermenegildo Miralles in Barcelona

7 In those photographs with a signed print, the author is mentioned. In case there is no signed print no name appears, although we start from the assumption that the industrial pictures were made by professional photographers.



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