“Photographs speak to you if you stop to look at their details”
Valentí Fargnoli was an itinerant photographer who in the first decades of the 20th century traveled the country on his bicycle portraying life from the coast to the mountains. He even photographed the wedding of Alfonso XIII which, with the attack on the king, will change his existence forever. Now, the journalist and writer Martí Gironell novels his life in the memory maker (Columna Edicions/Planeta), a work that won the last Prudenci Bertrana Award. The author presents it today at the Adserà Bookstore in Tarragona (7:00 p.m.), by the writer Xulio Ricardo Trigo.
He has exchanged wine and Jews for photography.
The engine of my life is curiosity, it is what insists on being able to dress a novel. So, many years ago I saw the photographs of Valentí Fargnoli because he was a heritage photographer, which means that he portrayed heritage from everywhere. I fell in love with the images of him and from there I began to meet people who could talk, not only about his work, but also about the person.
Have you reached the person?
Yes, although it's difficult because he was an itinerant photographer and hasn't left much of a mark. I have done it from other references and letters written by him. Fargnoli was a free soul, he never wanted to own a store. At the same time, despite this patina of a solitary character, he must have had a capacity for people skills because if not, how do you explain that he went in to take photos of isolated farmhouses? He would introduce himself, build confidence and after a few days he would go back upstairs to take the portraits.
Was Valenti Fargnoli the classic portrait painter?
Not only. She knew how to capture the soul of places.
Is that why Alfonso XIII hired you?
It is not known. Fargnoli took the photos of a previous visit of the king of Spain to Girona and Barcelona, in 1904, images that the king and his wife liked very much. That is why later he received the distinction for going to Madrid on May 31, 1906 to take the wedding photos.
Only four years since it started.
He already had a trajectory. In fact, he made postcards that later came to pharmacies and hostels. He entered into the dynamic of starting to take pictures to record, as if he were a notary.
Photos of King Alfonso XIII's wedding have never been seen. Fargnoli was a person who lived from photography and never published them. Why?
With the attack on the king, you weave history.
The thing is, the wedding photos have never been seen. A person who lives from photography never publishes them. Why? What's more, after the wedding Fargnoli disappeared, he fled to Argentina, where he lived for two years. So, he started documenting me. He would enter photography contests that he frequently won, prizes that were usually awarded to libraries. Mateo Morral, the anarchist who attacked the kings, worked there in these libraries, so I began to weave complicity and relationships. And those who understand, the people I talk to, see a plausible connection. Then I suddenly turned around because I was documenting a fiction to make it believable.
It also affects women. Is it a tribute to Víctor Català?
There are several homages in this novel. In photography, in street photographers and in Víctor Català, through Rosa, Valentí Fargnoli's wife, who reads with devotion the story of Mila, the protagonist of Loneliness and that it was already distrusted that it could be written by a man. He wanted to pay tribute to women because it was a time when they also pressed to be. For example, the Women's Public Library was inaugurated, with the purpose of offering them knowledge so that they could get ahead.
There are still wandering photographers...
But the main difference is that they don't go like him, with the camera on their shoulder, on a bicycle, with only six glass plates. Now it is much easier. I wanted the reader to realize that these photographs are not retouched, there is no Photoshop. It was very complicated, not only taking the photo, but later developing it. Although I always say that he was the forerunner of Photocall, since he went with three sets painted by himself. It was the only thing that was allowed to be retouched from that reality that he captured.
Not so long ago we had to wait for the reveal.
Yes. Hence the expression "We'll see" referring to we'll see how it will turn out. It was restlessness after a whole day's work. She quickly returned home to see what she had left. He only trusted his craft and his artist's nose when he was going to immortalize a moment or a person.
It was a very common practice at that time, especially children. The first thing that people who died of a child did, before calling the priest, was to go find a photographer to be able to immortalize the image of that boy or girl that they would never see again. It is that from the photographs of this character you can tell an entire era, a whole part of our history. And I liked to subvert the cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words. I have used more than a thousand words to describe a group of images.
Have we lost that heritage?
It has been socialized so much that it has become trivialized. Before, with photography, collective memory was made and all this has been lost. I am of the opinion that stones speak if you want to listen to them, if you want to document them, contextualize them. In the same way, the photographs also speak to you and tell you many things if you stop to look at each and every one of the details that they tell you.
Do you like to have photos taken?
It doesn't bother me. What's more, I entrust everyone to making memories because afterwards we all want to see the photos. I am very much in favor of taking pictures and having them take pictures of me.