Dead bodies' frozen light

Frank. Dead girl, Daguerrotype, June 1857

On 7 January 1839, while in Paris the astronomer François Arago presented to the world the invention by Nicéphore Niépce and Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, Spain was the scene of a bitter war between the supporters of Don María Isidro and the defenders of the rights of Queen María Cristina of Naples. All the long Spanish 19th century was a period of bloody wars that would not end until 1939, a hundred years after the above events, when the victory of a military revolt – strongly 19th-century in spirit –, brought an armistice to the exhausted country. The first known Spanish daguerrotype was taken on 18 november 1839, and this was also the first known photo of Madrid. However, the most common photographic genre from the beginning was the portrait, with a strongly Spanish peculiarity since the very first Spanish plates, which would continue with the glass negatives and photo prints as well: the photo portraits of dead children.

Photos by José Rodrigo and J. Suárez, ca. 1870

Antonio García, Portrait of a dead boy, 1910

Anonymous photographer, Princesse María de las Mercedes de Orléans, before her last journey, 1878

Anonymous daguerrotype, ca. 1850

This new photographic practice might have been rooted in the same background as the imagines maiorum, the Roman ancestor portraits placed in the lararia of patrician houses, or the emperor’s imago, the death mask, a repository of his soul, which was used in the second funeral to facilitate his apotheosis, the elevation among the gods.

Another country where post mortem child photography was greatly widespread, was Mexico, although we also find it in many other places. In Spain, the first professional daguerrotypists announced their services, such as Mattey did in the 3 April 1856 edition of Diario de Barcelona, offering to “go to the home of the deceased persons to take their photographic portraits, imbued with the expression of life and in the desired position”. Similarly, the Canarian photographer A. J. Benítez in 1888 enticed prospective clients like this: “In times of family mourning, these great portraits are those which preserve the most precious memory of the deceased persons.” The technique of photography thus democratized the rigid portraits of the aristocratic and imperial children painted by Federico Madrazo, José Roldán and others in the same period.

Maurice Ravel: Pavane for a dead infanta (1902). Guitar arrangement by Julian Bream, 1960

Over time, documentary photography was also attracted to this kind of scenes. The memory of the child, who barely had time to integrate into the family, was entrusted to the photographic image of his or her corpse, the only portrait ever made of him/her, which was then devoutly preserved by the family. For Baudelaire in the same period, however, the photography betrayed the memory, by supplanting and corrupting it and not letting it perform its cleaning and internalizing job.

Fernando Gordillo, Catafalque in Pedro Bernardo, 1969

Jordi Olivé, Dead girl, Alforja (Tarragona), 1965

Germán Gallego, Burial of three Gypsy children drown in the Órbigo river, 1976

The portrait of the corpse also had its “pictorial” stage, in line with a general trend of fin-de-siècle photography, considered by Roland Barthes as an exaggeration of a prejudice that photography had about itself. And over time, the portrait of the deceased has virtually disappeared with the spreading of photography, since we all store abundant pictures of our living relatives.

Anonymous photographer, Laureate body of the painter Mariano Fortuny y Marsal, 1874

Joan Vilatoba, Where will I find you in heaven?, ca. 1915

Josep Masana, Between life and death, ca. 1925

The photography of Art Nouveau, just like visual arts and literature, had a predilection for playing with the ambiguous eroticism of corpses. And an excuse of scientism gave rise to the visual exploration of dead bodies and their exposure to public gaze.

Pla Janini, Dissection class, 1901

Venancio Gombau, Dissection room, Salamanca, ca. 1910

Fernando Navarro, Mourning in Totana (Murcia), ca. 1905

Collado, The bullfighter Enrique Pérez Ferrando, died in the bullring of Albacete, August 1919

The popular characters of that Spain all considered it necessary to leave an image of their corpse for the posterity.

Baldomero, The bullfighter Granero dying in the infirmary of the bullring in Madrid,, 7 May 1922

Anonymous photographer, The corpses of the bandits El Pernales [to the right] and El Niño del Arahal, displayed after being shot by the Guardia Civil, Villaverde de Guadalimar, 6 October 1907

The Spanish Civil War was extensively reported on since 1936 first by foreign and then also by Spanish photographers, creating such a vast collection of documents which is not yet fully known. The first photo report was published already in August 1936 in the magazine Vu, directed by Lucien Vogel. It was perhaps the Catalan Agustí Centelles who won the greatest fame by his aesthetics of commitment, closeness and identification with the people he portrayed. And here, obviously, the representation of corpses could not be absent either.

Agustí Centelles, Bombardment of Lérida, 2 November 1937

Agustí Centelles, Children playing to be adults, Barcelona, 1936. This photo, taken in a suburb
of Barcelona, recalls the harsh stories (the «aventis») told by the characters in
Si te dicen que caí (When you’ll hear that I fell, 1973) by Juan Marsé

Javier Bauluz. Dead immigrant on the beach of Zahara de los Atunes (Cádiz), 2000. Nowadays Spaniards
do not kill each others as before, but still there are occasions when corpses are exposed
to public eyes. For example, on the Spanish shores open to the immigration
from Africa. The look of this couple under the umbrella
merits a study on its own.

3 comentarios:

Rupert Neil Bumfrey dijo...

Alberto dijo...

I'm pretty sure that the couple under the umbrella are tourists

Anónimo dijo...

Alberto, they are flamenco dancers that butchered the corpse to feed their children because of the famine caused by the recession. Or you can choose your stereotype that fits the dumbness of the poster.
But I still have the impression that the post has been written by a son of a bitch from our own country (though he do not want to be)