Classified in photo albums, hung in pictures or stacked in forgotten boxes, photographs represent the most effective way to store memories and become a tradition. Pilar Alcolea inherited the family archive after the death of her mother, who in turn kept that of her parents and grandparents, and has guarded it for years until she began to dust them off and really take an interest in the characters that were hiding behind: “She valued them as something intimate but I did not know the cultural aspect they were hiding until I began to investigate the Miguel family, some of my ancestors who were artists in Zaragoza, of whom I have always been curious to know more, “he emphasizes.
With a stumbling investigation, he has managed to learn curious facts about the history of these artists and contemplate a possible publication. Following the photographs of his ancestors he also found the citizen science project, Aragon Photo, in charge of collecting true photographic treasures throughout the Aragonese territory for which he has contributed 135 photographs belonging to his different roots, making up the collection Pinilla-Miguel-Sancho, one of the most significant of the project.
This initiative began to be developed in 2019, although it did not take shape until February last year at the hands of researchers from the Agency for Research and Development (ARAID) such as the historian José Antonio Hernández Latas or the engineer David Íñiguez. Although it really became a reality in February of last year, “the objective is to bring out the hidden or unknown historical photographic heritage, preserved in legacies and family collections, it is a very fragile heritage, which largely remains unpublished, and that we must put into value “, explains José Antonio Hernández, principal investigator.
Photography as art was born in 1839, although in the Aragonese community only archives are preserved from the end of the 1850s. It is the date that has served as a starting point for the compilation of project material with a margin until 1950. Until now they have been able to collect 1,306 samples thanks to the collaboration of citizens who have shared a total of 18 collections. Their participation and awareness of the value that those treasures hide has been crucial for the project to be carried out, “some throw them away because they do not know who appears or because they are very old and that happens due to ignorance. But they are important because at what better a historic building that is no longer there, an unpublished clothing or a missing profession that give us an idea of the not so past history, “says Pilar.
The researchers have also used technology to create the free mobile application called Aragón Photo and facilitate the first exchange of information with the owners. Filling in a form with the contact information and attaching some photographs are the first steps until the future visit, which may be at their homes or at the University of Zaragoza, to the researchers who are members of the Aragonese Observatory of Art in the Public Sphere, Visual Culture section, in charge of this phase of the project.
Alcolea signed up in July of last year without much hope of being able to find something of value, “I thought that only three or four would do but they explain how the photographs are made, who took them and they take you back to that time with the realities and vicissitudes of the time, “he highlights. He also remarks that the best thing is to be able to keep those memories intact despite the passage of time, “they scan it and give you a small hard disk with a quality that it did not have because they even touch up some that were a little damaged and leave them as new, it’s a gift to see them like this, “he says. The files are not only digitized for families but also through its website and the repositories of the Information System of the Cultural Heritage of Aragon (SIPCA), being able to choose whether to offer the data or keep anonymity.
The value of the hidden
Considered a cultural asset of great value, the photographic heritage helps preserve the collective memory by bringing out different curiosities of a documentary, historical or artistic nature, “the great surprise and joy for the project has been the recent discovery of a daguerreotype from around 1859 , the pioneering photographic technique, of which hardly any testimonies are preserved in our community. Furthermore, the person portrayed in said daguerreotype will eventually be an illustrious bishop, Mariano Supervía Lostalé “, explains Hernández.
Although most of the discoveries are located in the Aragonese capital, the most emblematic places of the Teruel capital are also reflected in the Teruel TP collection where you can observe the passage of time over the station or the market square. The different towns of Huesca are also present in the Coarasa Barbey collection, which also presents some unpublished files during the time of the Spanish Civil War with the capture of Siétamo on the Aragon front.
The collection belonging to Pilar Alcolea has also made it possible to confirm family anecdotes, “I have heard that a brother of my grandfather was working with the painter Marcelino de Unceta and collaborated in painting the dome of Pilar and, what’s more, to make Santo Dominguito de Val they took as a model for my great-grandfather, it is something that is gratifying “, Alcolea declares. The researchers also highlight that in this collection there is “one of the first albumin portraits, inserted in bone cufflinks, to be worn on the sleeves of a jacket or frock coat, and an early example of photography with movement, with the lenticular effect. on vinyl “, clarifies the principal investigator.
Although the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed down the development of the process, they hope to resume field work and continue to increase the collection also in the coming years, “it is a long-term project that is constantly receiving requests. We have requests for collaboration of up to 21 collections and the digitized number will soon exceed 1,300 pieces “, they indicate from the initiative.