Category Archives: photography

Early Photography in Spain

This post is reblogged with kind permission of the author, and was originally posted on the BL European Studies blog: 

The Spanish National Library in Madrid (Biblioteca Nacional de España; BNE) has mounted a small, but representative exhibition drawn from its photographic collections, entitled ‘Fotografía en España (1850-1870)’. In that period, demand for photography grew rapidly as a means of documenting events and of capturing images of landscape, famous buildings, city landmarks, and art works. Photography also became a new medium for portraits of leading contemporary figures and of the family. It was also important for recording infrastructure projects.

Several of the photographers who worked in Spain were foreign. One of them was a Welshman, Charles Clifford (1819-1863), who set up business in Madrid in late 1850. He produced a considerable body of material over a short period of time, including the album Voyages en Espagne (1856), consisting of some 400 images of famous civil and ecclesiastical buildings and monuments.

Spanish Photos (GW) BNE CharlesClifford1
Charles Clifford. Palacio de la Reina, Barcelona (1860).  BNE.

Clifford’s success brought him the patronage of the Queen Isabel II. He recorded some of the construction projects being undertaken in her reign, notably that of the canal which brought a secure supply of fresh water to Madrid and which bears her name.  In fact ‘Canal de Isabel II’ is still the name of the water utility of the Madrid region. He also accompanied the Queen on her royal journeys around Spain.

Another leading photographer, the Frenchman Jean Laurent (1816-1886), began his career in Madrid before Clifford. He too specialised in city views, buildings and monuments, and also in photographing works of art. The BNE exhibition includes his photograph of the Congreso de los Diputados  and also of Velázquez’s Las Meninas.

Spanish Photos (GW) BNE Laurent1
Jean Laurent. Congreso de los Diputados, Madrid (1855-60). BNE.

Both Laurent and Clifford produced images of the Alhambra, considered probably the most picturesque (in the literal sense) site in Spain and an undoubted draw for the growing number of travellers in the second half of the 19th century. Another favourite destination was Santiago de Compostela, and the exhibition includes a photograph of the Pórtico de la Gloria by another British photographer, Charles Thurston Thompson (1816-1868).

The exhibition includes a number of other subjects. There are portraits, e.g. of Pedro Antonio de Alarcón (author of The Three-Cornered Hat), the actress Adelaida Fernández Zapatero and the painter José María Castellanos; a female nude; and various ethnographic scenes.

The British Library does not systematically collect photographs. However, a number of special collections are held. Among these is a relatively little-known collection of photographs of Spain by British photographers. There are 230 photographs by Clifford, gathered in three albums, two of topographical and architectural views and the other of images of armour from the Real Armería  in the Royal Palace in Madrid. It is probable however that some of the photographs contained in this last album were the work of his wife, Jane, although they are generally attributed to Charles Clifford. Jane Clifford was an accomplished photographer in her own right and maintained the studio after Charles’s death. One of the albums of views (shelfmark 1785.c.1) was part of the bequest to the British Museum in 1900 of Henry Spencer Ashbee, the noted collector of works both of Miguel de Cervantes and of erotica.

Spanish Photos (GW) Madrid
Charles Clifford. Calle de Alcalá, Madrid , with the Cibeles fountain (ca. 1857). BL, 1785.c.1, no. 57.

Spanish Photos (GW) Salamanca
Charles Clifford. West door of Salamanca Cathedral (ca. 1858). BL 1704.d.9, no. 65.

The Library also holds 39 photographs by Charles Thurston Thompson, some of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the rest of the monastery church of Santa Maria da Vitória, Batalha, in Portugal. These are held in two albums. Thompson held a post as photographer of art works at the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A). In 1866 he travelled to France, Spain and Portugal on a photographic expedition on behalf of the Department of Science and Art.

Spanish Photos (GW) Portico 2

Charles Thurston Thompson. Pórtico de la Gloria, Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, with the statue of the Saint (1866).  BL 1811.a.18, no. 4.

Geoff West, Lead Curator Hispanic Studies, British Library


Lee Fontanella, La historia de la fotografía en España (Madrid, 1981). LB.31.b.6876

Lee Fontanella, Clifford en España. Un fotógrafo en la Corte de Isabel II (Madrid, 1999). LF.31.b.5746

See also the British Library’s historic photographs feature: and the  online catalogue of photographs:

– See more at:


Women and Independence in Latin America: Databases, Debate and Dissemination

Between 2001 and 2006, researchers at the universities of Nottingham and Manchester constructed an online database of women involved in the processes of independence in Latin America.  The database was created as part of a five-year AHRC funded project entitled ‘Gendering Latin American Independence’. The digital resource contains over 2500 biographical entries and provides details of women’s and men’s political and social participation between 1790 and 1850. The overarching aim of the project was to rethink Latin American Independence in terms of gender.

Latin American guerilla military leader, Juana Azurduy (1780-1862), on horseback.

Latin American guerilla military leader, Juana Azurduy (1780-1862), on horseback.

Dr Claire Brewster, who is now a senior lecturer in Latin American history at the University of Newcastle, spent five years inputting references to women whose names were registered during this period. Focusing especially on Spanish South America, she input data from 266 publications and consulted 28 archives. The database is searchable not only by name, place and date, but also by groups of women. For example, users can search for women who belonged to specific tertulias, women who were executed by those who opposed Independence, women who were patriot spies or women who supported the royalists.  There are around 500 groups or links of this kind. From a researcher’s point of view, this is the most valuable aspect of the database as it shows the complex relationships between individuals and between their families. Loyalties were usually to families and loved ones, rather than to political ideology, but there is no doubt that the social upheaval created opportunities for women to operate more independently than in the ‘ancien regime’.

In May 2012, Professor Catherine Davies and her team at the universities of Nottingham and Edinburgh embarked upon on a new phase of the project entitled ‘Women and Independence in Latin America’. This new stage, which lasted for a year, was funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council, as well as contributions from the Centre of Advanced Studies and the Horizon Hub at the University of Nottingham. The team transformed the ‘Gendering Latin American Independence’ website and its database into an interactive, community-driven resource, which will allow academic and non-academic audiences alike to exchange ideas and information about the Independence struggles and their contemporary relevance. This database can be consulted at

One of the key goals of this stage of the project, which finished in July 2013, was to involve Latin American women in the UK and in Latin American countries in the recovery of their shared history, cultural heritage and identity, increasing their awareness and understanding of the contemporary relevance of women’s protagonism during Independence. For this reason, the team worked on several community knowledge exchange programmes and cultural initiatives. In August and September 2012, Catherine travelled to Buenos Aires with Dr Iona MacIntyre from the University of Edinburgh (the project’s Co-Investigator) and Dr Maria Thomas from the University of Nottingham (the project’s research assistant) to collaborate with the Museo de la Mujer, a women’s history museum, on the ‘Libertadoras’ programme. This month-long series of cultural events featured plays, discussion groups, workshops, exhibitions and guided tours on the theme of the contemporary relevance of women’s contribution to Independence in Latin America.

Southwark exhibition

Southwark exhibition of Empowerment through Art.

Through the London-based Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), a charity which supports Latin American female migrants in the UK, the team worked extensively with a group of teenage girls from Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador. They participated in a series of drama workshops on the theme of the nineteenth-century ‘Libertadoras’ and in a photography project which explored the girls’ identification with Latin America community in London and asked them to address concepts of freedom, liberation and independence.

The ‘Empowerment through Art’ photographic exhibition, which was presented at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham in March and April 2013 and at the premises of Southwark Council in London in May 2013, featured the girls’ own photographs alongside portraits of the participants taken of each participant by Mexican-British photographer Pablo Allison. The girls from LAWRS also presented a play which emerged from their drama workshops, entitled ‘Razones por las que luchar’ (Reasons for Fighting) at UCL’s Institute of the Americas on May 15 2013.

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Drama workshops with teenagers from Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador.

These events were exciting and timely because they provided a snapshot of how young, female Latin Americans see their adoptive country at a time the UK Latin American community is growing steadily. In 2008 there were around 186, 500 Latin Americans living in the UK and the numbers are rising. Although the community is now a large, dynamic and important presence in London, its experiences are often overlooked.  As representatives of this community, these girls presented themselves as empowered young women in the play and the photography exhibition. As Carolina Gottardo, the director of LAWRS, comments: ‘they are not victims; these are young women who can stand with their heads held high, looking toward the future. They are young women with ideals and potential, even though their situation as Latin American migrants in an unfamiliar country with little knowledge of the language and the customs is not easy;  even when they have to face up to stereotypes about young women immigrants from an ethnic minority.’

Dr Maria Thomas was the research assistant on the project Women and Independence in Latin America, and is now a lecturer in Hispanic Studies at the University of Exeter.

Direct travel experience versus photography storytelling

Being a photographer, researcher, and keen traveller at the same time, often puts me in a difficult situation. Seeing an exciting scene, my natural instinct stubbornly prompts me to take my camera out and start shooting. But then afterwards I realize, that it makes me poorer in fully experiencing the event. Even the widest camera lens considerably limits one’s scope. By focusing my attention on the camera’s viewfinder, I put myself on ‘the other side of the camera’ – like the future spectators of my work. By doing this, I deprive myself of the direct, fresh and instant encounter with the situation I choose to document. How far is it possible to create an engaging series of photographs and at the same time fully experience the situation? Or is it always about some kind of compromise?

How do we experience a situation of a travel, a visit to a new place? We do it by our five senses: we see what is around, we hear the sounds, we smell, we can taste (if we decide to eat or drink something) and we feel through our skin: if we touch, if we feel the heat or the cold, or the humidity, or tiredness, or the breeze, or the sunshine etc. When I travel, what I remember most is what I feel in my skin. I lie on the beach on a sunny day, squeezing warm sand in my hands, feeling the sunshine on my face and a slight breeze on my skin. This is the memory I want to ‘freeze’, capture and re-use once I am back in cold, rainy London’s morning, waiting for a train on my way to work. These elements are obviously combined into complex interrelationships. The variations are endless. And it all combines into dynamic sequences, as these experiences are happening over period of time, with fluctuating conditions, and constantly changing impression and interpretation of what is going on.

Whenever we use any of the technologies to capture this experience, we start to ‘translate’ it into different language, and it always is a huge simplification. Having thought about it, especially having visited so many wonderful places, I felt completely impotent when it comes to sharing this experience with my family and friends. As a result of this realization, I started to collect a growing number of non-existing images. Situations of amazement, so often experienced when traveling, deeply engraved in my head, but without an attempt of any physical ‘translation’. Situations I might speak about, and try to give some justice to the complexity of the experience, describing not only what I have seen, but how I felt, if it was a pleasant experience or not, what was the most intense sensation.

Sometimes taking a photo might be simply impossible for various reasons, even if we are willing to take one. In September/October 2012, I was in the Colombian jungle, climbing Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta on my way to the Ciudad Perdida, Lost City from the extinct Tayrona culture. On my way, I was interviewing some Kogi people, who live in the mountains. Kogis and Arhuacos are descendants of Tayrona, they both wear traditional white clothes and beautiful, dark, long hair. As I was there, there were many situations which I wanted to photograph, but I did not. Sometimes, because I was too slow to take out my camera. Sometimes, because I was too amazed seeing what I could see, which paralyzed me from doing anything else. Other time – and this is the most common reason I regularly collect non-existing photographs – because I was too intimidated to take the picture. Sometimes it was a question of protecting my camera in extreme weather conditions. Sometimes, it was a combination of all the reasons.

An example: I climb the mountain, sweating more than I could ever imagine I would, feeling really tired, and wondering why my backpack weighs more and more with every step I make. It is the same morning when two people get bitten by a scorpion, and an elderly Kogi man I interviewed warns me about the number of snakes in the area. I got into the trans of the walk, not feeling much more but the monotonous rhythm of my steps: left, right, left, right. I am surrounded by a tropical forest, a very dense flora of the jungle. Suddenly I am thrown out of my meditation by an unexpected scene: a Kogi family, parents and two kids, all dressed in white and all barefoot, cheerfully run down the hill to energetic rhythms of bachata, flowing from a small transistor radio the father of the family carries on his shoulder. I stop in amazement to watch that. The bachata and the barefoot jog was so surreal, that I didn’t even reach for my camera.

Non existing photographs are very personal and very subjective. We all know people who build up on their memories so much, that the imaginary parts melt into the real memories to the point, that after a while it’s impossible to tell them apart. That’s how the legends of one’s past emerge. We become stronger/weaker, older, more or less resistant, and a long walk might seem a short stroll after a while, or a five day trek in a jungle – an impossible physical task. Also, the question of objectivity and subjectivity comes into importance here. What might seem a lovely place for me, for example a great adventure of climbing in the jungle, admiring the abundance of nature, for some of my friends might seem a nightmare full of snakes and unnecessary physical exhaustion. Also – a regular trip to Colombia, a beautiful and welcoming place, for someone fearing the dangers of so-called third world, might be a synonym of insecurity and threat. These subjective emotions are also part of the non-existing photos, but you cannot include them in the real images. Or at least it’s a very hard task.

I would argue there is no way of creating satisfactory translation of the richness of travel experience in any known medium. It might well serve as a memory preserved in the image, but it will never replace the complexity of all senses of the direct experience.

Agata Lulkowska is a photographer, filmmaker, and Researcher of Indigenous Cultures of Colombia, pursuing her practice-based PhD at Birkbeck, University of London and regularly exhibiting her photographs in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bologna and other places in Europe. Central point of her research is the power of the visual media to create meaning.