March 31, 2018

Stunning Photographs of 1950s Barcelona Discovered by an American Tourist at Flea Market

Tom Sponheim, from Seattle, visited Els Encants market during his trip to Barcelona in the summer of 2001. Whilst browsing the stalls, he stumbled across a box of brown envelopes containing a series of negatives. Due to a keen interest in old photography, Sponheim purchased the envelopes for the equivalent of $3.50. Upon his return to America and a closer examination of the negatives, he realised he had come across something very special.

The collection of images captured Barcelona residents on the streets during the 1950s, providing an intriguing insight into daily life during the Franco era. Given the political climate, the photographs were notably provocative. “They depict the real life of real people, sometimes revealing aspects of poverty and despair that were really quite subversive during a dictatorship,” said Sponheim.

Over the years, he grew more curious about who the photographer was and how the images had ended up in the flea market. When he heard about Vivian Maier—a nanny from Chicago who left behind over 100,000 secret photographs, hidden in storage—he decided to take action. In an attempt to find out more about the enigmatic images, Sponheim set up a Facebook page ‘Las Fotos Perdidas de Barcelona’ (The Lost Photos of Barcelona) in 2010. Before long, the page gained thousands of followers and hundreds of comments from people offering information about where the photos were taken, and even some clues towards the identity of the subjects. “It’s amazing what social media can achieve!” he exclaimed.

Despite the page’s popularity however the identity of the photographer remained unknown until Barcelona-based photographer Begoña Fernández stumbled upon the page in 2017. Awed by the beauty of the pictures, she set upon a fervent quest to get to the bottom of the mystery.

After days and nights of squinting at background details, Fernández identified an elementary school where many of the photos were taken. From there, she uncovered a posting about a 1962 photo contest, with suggested shooting locations that matched some of the lost images. Further digging led her to visit the archives of the Agrupació Fotográfica de Catalunya, one of the area’s oldest photography associations.

Flipping through the dusty pages of an old magazine, she had a flash of recognition — a photo from Tom Sponheim’s Facebook page. Captioned Fervor, the image of a woman deep in prayer won fourth place in a 1961 contest. The photographer: Milagros Caturla.

According to Mashable, Caturla was the seventh of ten children and had trained as a teacher but worked as an administrator. She was a passionate photographer, keeping a darkroom in her apartment and winning a number of local contests and awards before her death in 2008.
















Photographer Milagros Caturla.

(Photos by Milagros Caturla, courtesy of Tom Sponheim)



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