Spanish Vivian Maier: Photographs by a Talented Author Discovered at a Flea Market in Barcelona

The exhibition of photographs that an American tourist accidentally bought in the early 2000s will take place in the capital of Catalonia this May.

In the summer of 2001, American Tom Sponheim was walking around Barcelona with his wife and found himself in a local flea market, Els Encants. On one of the stalls, he found a bunch of old negatives that he bought for $3.5, one dollar more that the seller was asking. Sponheim realized how valuable his purchase was only when he came back to the States and processed the negatives — it became clear that the photographs were taken by an unknown, but very talented author.

Nine years later, in 2010, Sponheim decided to try to find the author’s name. He created a Facebook page for this, and with the help of targeted advertising started attracting there Barcelona locals interested in photography. The number of people who liked the page grew, people recognized themselves and their family, but the name of the photographer remained unknown.

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In early 2017, Begoña Fernández discovered the page. She was so impressed with the photographs displayed there that she decided to help Sponheim in his search: after several days, she visited a primary school that was captured in some of the photographs and found a 1962 advertising about a photo contest. The advertising mentioned several locations that were the same as in the photographs purchased in the flea market.

Fernández then visited the archive of one of the local photography organizations — Catalonia Photography Association — and started looking through the magazines from that time. In one of them, she saw a photograph that she had seen earlier on Sponheim’s Facebook. The photograph, captioned Fervor, placed fourth in one of the 1961 contests. The author’s name was Milagros Caturla.

Caturla worked as an administrator in one of the Barcelona’s schools, but has taken interest in photography for her entire life, and even had a photo laboratory in her apartment. In various years, her works took prizes at several contests. She died in 2008.

Fernández and Sponheim, who say that Milagros Caturla is a Spanish Vivian Maier, are working on making her photographs known to the public. The photographs will be first presented at the exhibition during the Revela-T festival, which will take place in Barcelona next month.

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