Mystery solved: Photographer of exquisite archive found in Barcelona flea market identified

When American tourist Tom Sponheim discovered a forgotten collection of negatives revealing life in Barcelona during the Franco dictatorship of the 1960s he embarked on a quest to identify the person behind the lens.

Mystery solved: Photographer of exquisite archive found in Barcelona flea market identified
The talented amateur photographer was identified as Barcelona council worker Milagros Caturla.

Now 16 years after he first came across a faded envelope on a “table of junk” in Els Encants market, that mystery has been solved and  Milagros Caturla, the female photographer responsible for the stunning intimate shots of life in Barcelona is about to get the recognition she never received in life.

IN PICS: Exquisite images of bygone Barcelona discovered by American tourist at flea market

The Local first wrote about Sponheim’s search for the photographer back in January when he explained the story behind a facebook page Las Fotos Perdidas De Barcelona –  The Lost Photos of Barcelona – which he set up in the hope that someone might recognize some of the people photographed and help solve the mystery.

Photo: Tom Sponheim / Las Fotos Perdidas De Barcelona

The page garnered more than 13,000 followers and although many came forward after recognizing places and even people in the shots, no-one could confirm who was behind the lens.

Fortunately, the page came to the attention of Barcelona-based photographer Begoña Fernández, who like Sponheim is an avid collector of old negatives.

After seeing Sponheim’s collection she was struck by the artistic value of the photographs and decided to undertake a spot of sleuthing.

 “I had a hunch it was a woman that was responsible for these photographs,” she told The Local explaining that she recognized the intimacy between the photographer and subjects.

“I noticed that many of the pictures were shot in women environments, such as girls’ schools or ballet lessons, so considering that at that time (1960s) boys and girls attended separated schools in Spain, I thought it was likely the photographer was a woman,” she explained.

Photo: Tom Sponheim / Las Fotos Perdidas De Barcelona

Following her instinct, she tried to identify the school that appears in the photographs to see if that could provide a clue and identified it as the‘Carmen Tronchoni’ elementary school, popularly know as ‘Els Tres Pins’.

Coming up against false starts and dead ends, she had a stroke of luck when trawling the internet with the discovery that the female section of the Falange (the only political party allowed under dictator Franco) ran a photographic competition for women suggesting locations that appear in many the photographs, including the school. Fernández thought “perhaps some of (Sponheim’s) photographs were entered into the competition?”

But no trace of the winners, or entrants to the photographic competition, could be found in online archives so she turned to one of Catalonia’s oldest and most emblematic photography associations, the ‘Agrupació Fotogràfica de Catalunya‘ (AFC), where the director, Francesca Portolés,suggested that Fernández look through the monthly bulletins of the association.

There, after hours of painstaking research, she came across a photograph of the judging of the competition where she identified one of the pictures – a devout women caught in deep prayer –  in Sponheim’s collection.

And a caption beneath it read: Fervor, by Milagros Caturla, winner of the 4th prize in the contest.

The photograph from Sponheim´s collection identified as 4th prize winner “Fervour” by Milagros Caturla 

With that name, the mystery was solved.

And it didn’t take much digging around to discover more about the photographer, now dubbed the Vivian Maier of Spain.

Fernández discovered that Caturla had died in Barcelona died in an care home in 2008, where she had been suffering from Alzheimer’s.

The seventh of ten siblings, she never married or had children and despite qualifying as a teacher, she worked as a secretary for the council in Barcelona.

Fernández managed to track down one of her nephews, who remembers that his aunt had a dark room in her apartment.

Fernández (centre) with Francesca Portolés, ex-president of the AFC and Lluís Caturla, Milagros' nephew, looking through the archives that helped identify the photographer.

She also discovered that as well as the fourth prize, she had won first prize in the same competition a year later, as well as other awards for her photography and had some of her photographs included in an exhibition of female photographers in Olot.

“For me as a woman and as a photographer like Milagros, it was amazing to confirm that my intuition was correct, because seeing her photos was like seeing myself in some way, in the way that how I would like to do photos and what I want to express with them,” explained Fernández.

“I was pretty sure from the outset that the photographer was a woman and in the end it became a personal quest for me,” she said.

“The quality of the photos was immediately apparent to me, because she catches the moment , she had the correct framing and light and the people in her photos are talking directly to her ,  and because of that to us.”

“I think is the way that she focused on the little things , a foot, or  a knee but always in a manner that transmits a sensation….”

Fernández has now teamed up with Sponheim and the AFC and they are planning an exhibition of the “lost photographs” in Barcelona within the next few months.

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Why Spain is still in the wrong time zone because of Hitler

As Spain again prepares to put the clocks forward on Saturday night, we look at the fascinating reasons why the country has been in the wrong time zone for the last 75 years, the possible effects of this historical blip on Spanish society, and why there's still no sign of it changing.

Nazi leader German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (R) shakes hands with Spanish Generalísimo Francisco Franco at Hendaye train station on the French-Spanish border in October 1940. (Photo by AFP)
Nazi leader German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (R) shakes hands with Spanish Generalísimo Francisco Franco at Hendaye train station on the French-Spanish border in October 1940. (Photo by AFP)

Why is Spain in the wrong time zone?

Madrid lies directly south of London. Spain is geographically in line with the UK and Portugal. It makes sense, then, that Spain was in the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) zone until around 75 years ago.

But that all changed in 1940. With Nazi Germany occupying Belgium, Holland, and recently invading France, Spain’s own facist dictator, Francisco Franco, travelled to the French border to meet with Hitler, the man he and many other believed would go on to dominate Europe.

The momentum was clearly with the Nazis, at the time, and Italy had already pledged its support to Hitler. Although he wanted the same from Spain, Franco, however, didn’t have much to offer. With the country ravaged by its own recent Civil War – in which Franco’s victory was heavily supported by Hitler –  Franco felt obliged to make a gesture of some sort.

Although ultimately remaining neutral in the war, Franco decided to show his support for Hitler by agreeing to put Spain’s clocks forward by an hour in an act of solidarity with Nazi Germany. 

Spain has remained in the Central European Time zone ever since, in line with countries as far east as Poland. That means that Madrid currently has the same time as Warsaw in Poland 2,290km away but is one hour ahead of Lisbon which is only 502 km away. 

The consequences of Spain being in the wrong time zone

But Franco’s decision all those years ago isn’t just a quirk of Spanish history, or testament to the extent to which the legacy of that period still looms over Spanish society, it was a decision that, experts say, has had a lasting impact on Spanish culture and society that underpins everything from Spaniard’s sleep cycles and meal times to the country’s birth rates and economic growth.

In recent years there have been calls to make the switch back to GMT because many believe the time zone quirk is affecting Spaniard’s productivity and quality of life. In 2013 a Spanish national commission concluded that Spaniards sleep almost an hour less than the European average, and that this led to increased stress, concentration problems, both at school and work, and workplace accidents.

Some experts believe this explains the Spanish dependence on siestas – that is, that the lack of sleep makes them necessary – but in reality the siesta has been a consistent feature of Spanish life for centuries for many of the same reasons it still is today: in southern Spain, the fierce summer temperatures make it necessary to stay at home during the afternoon. 

Spain's most famous clock is the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. Photo: Jorge Franganillo/Flickr
Spain’s most famous clock is at the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. Photo: Jorge Franganillo/Flickr

One effect of the siesta however is that the break in the day means Spaniards work the most hours in Europe yet at one of the continent’s lowest levels of productivity. A lack of sleep contributes to siesta taking which, in turn, means Spaniards work later into the evening and could partly explain Spain’s notoriously nocturnal lifestyles and late meal times. 

Despite the country running on CET, Spaniards’ eating patterns roughly mirror GMT. Many Spaniards eat lunch at what would be 1 or 1.30pm in London (the traditional 2 or 2.30pm in Spain) and dinner at a reasonable 8pm in London (but 9pm or even 10pm as is customary in many parts of Spain).

Making the change and returning to GMT would, according to Nuria Chinchilla, professor at Spain’s IESE business school, help Spaniards “return to the natural order of our circadian rhythm (our 24-hour physiological cycle) that goes with the sun… and the sun in Greenwich, not Germany”.

“If we don’t (change to GMT) we lengthen the day, eat very late and then don’t sleep,” she added.

Why hasn’t Spain moved to the right time zone yet?

The debate about which time zone Spain belongs in was reinvigorated following recent proposals at the EU level to scrap entirely the daylight savings custom. 

In 2018 the EU Commission announced a proposal to abolish the custom after polling showed that 80 percent of Europeans are in favour of staying permanently on summer time.This debate naturally had many in Spain wondering about whether they were in the right time zone.

But owing to a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit, and various other bureaucratic difficulties, the proposal was shelved. Member states cannot decide unilaterally on the question of daylight savings, but they can decide which timezone they want to be in. 

Spain has had various commissions over the years exploring the impact of daylight savings and timezones, but no concrete proposals over a return to GMT have ever been made, despite the benefits experts claim it could bring.

Although the government’s focus has been drawn by more pressing issues in recent years – and the issue of time and daylight savings shelved at the European level – expect discussion of whether Spain is actually even in the right time zone this weekend when the clocks do go back, or if the linked issue of daylight savings is eventually taken off the shelf at the European level.

Article by Conor Faulkner