“There were them, but they have been silenced.” The quotes are from the historian Manuela Alonso Laza, curator at the Santander Image Documentation Center (CDIS), who has rescued the photographer María García del Moral from oblivion, who worked as a portraitist in Cantabria during the first three decades of the 20th century, until the Civil War. She is the first woman to enter the center’s archive, where a large collection of more than 300,000 images is kept.
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For a decade, Alonso has been following the trail of this woman of whom a fine has barely been recorded for not paying the tax to the City Council to take photos. He participated in exhibitions, he was awarded his images and later, silence. “It seems incredible that so much has been forgotten in such a short time. She died in 1958 and we know more about Goya than about her ”, says Alonso Laza, who admits to being satisfied with her rescue and starts to tremble with all their files that will have ended up in the trash.
The curator and art historian María Santoyo compiled a list of 25 “noteworthy” professional photographers in the archives of the National Library of Spain (BNE). Nobody knew them. For years she has dedicated herself to following the trail of the pioneers: “The archive of women photographers is a totally unknown and priority territory. It was an admitted hobby for women, although it was not recognized. They were not understood as professionals, they were treated as amateurs. Historiography has maintained a completely embedded patriarchal vision. ”
“Do not forget that there is a serious responsibility of contemporary historians, because we have not gone to the sources. The lack of research has perpetuated discrimination,” says Santoyo. To end inequality requires political will in investment for research – ” We cannot do it out of voluntarism “- and institutional sensitivity in museums such as the Reina Sofía, to acquire, preserve and disseminate their works. In this museum you can only find the work of Gerda Taro (1919-1937) in the Spanish Civil War.
The most urgent thing right now, according to María Santoyo, is to digitize all the files that are emerging so that they are not lost. One of the investment lines of the recovery and resilience funds of the European Union is precisely digitization. This newspaper has learned that the Ministry of Culture has not contemplated any line of investment in that sense “for now”, indicate the sources consulted. If the authorities do not act quickly, files like that of Sabina Muchart, the first war photographer in history, could disappear.
Born in Olot and settled in Malaga, in 1893 she photographed the Rif rebellion, the Second Moroccan War. Thanks to the historian Antonio Jesús González, five years ago we discovered that this “S” was not the signature of a man as was believed. “Photography did not exclude women, but photographers did”, recalls Santoya in reference to the Royal Photographic Society of Madrid, which prohibited them from accessing them.
However, the memory of Agustí Centelles, Santos Yubero, Alberto García-Alix, Catalá-Roca, Ortiz Echagüe, Alfonso or the AFAL group is protected in state, autonomous or local museums, which as Silvia Omedes, director of Photographic Social Vision Foundation, they have very good technicians, they preserve very good legacies, but they lack the economic resources to expand their funds, digitize them and disseminate them. For more than two decades they have managed photographers’ archives and collaborated with public institutions to enhance, reactivate and make the work of their clients profitable. Although Omedes insists that the lack of public investment in photographic archives affects them and them equally, he recognizes that since the rescue of the work of Joana Biarnés (1935-2018) there has been a greater awareness of the conservation of the work of the photographers .
Photographic Social Vision has managed the fund of the pioneer of photojournalism for six years and the operating profits (exhibition rentals, sale of copies) are invested, at the wish of Biarnés, in a grant of 8,000 euros to help young photojournalists in their research. They also manage the fund of Isabel Azkárate, the first Basque photojournalist, and that of Mey Rahola (in addition to that of Oriol Maspons or Jaques Léonard). They are recognized as a private institution with a public mission. “If the investment in culture does not reach 2% of the general budgets, it is difficult to open a museum of photography itself,” says Omedes.
The specialists consulted point out the municipal archives as essential elements in the recovery of the photographers of the past that are appearing. “These centers are the ones that are taking charge of them,” says Mireia Antón, an art historian specializing in photography and gender. Remember that the first retrospective exhibition that set out to rescue and exhibit the work of the first female photographers was inaugurated in 2004, curated by Colita and Mary Nash, at the Palau Robert, with the title “Pioneering photographers of Catalonia.”
They selected a dozen women who broke with the role of “angel of the home” that the patriarchy had assigned to them. Those women, by making their way into an exclusively male universe, defied social gender restrictions and rallied around the Photographic Association of Catalonia (AFC). “With the laboratory in the kitchen or bathroom at home, they achieved a first-class work,” explained the police stations in the sample.
The heirs conserve the historical and artistic heritage as best they can, pending the commitment of the State Administration in investing in a rescue plan for the photographers who portrayed Spain in the first half of the 20th century. “The challenge is to build a genealogy of women who dedicated themselves to photography, to break with the canon that we have been repeating for years in which they do not appear. To do this, it is necessary to recover their files ”, warns Mireia Antón. That could be one of the missions that the Center for Photography and Image would take care of, which is claimed from the Ministry of Culture.