An envelope in a Barcelona flea market held the work of an unknown master photographer
In the summer of 2001, American Tom Sponheim was vacationing in Barcelona with his wife. On their way to the cathedral of Sagrada Familia, they wandered through the bustling flea market of Els Encants.
Sponheim spotted a stack of photo negatives on a table, and after checking that they were decently exposed, asked the vendor how much. She asked for $2.50 for an envelope of the shots. He paid her $3.50.
Upon returning home, Sponheim scanned the negatives and discovered that he had stumbled upon the work of an unknown but immensely talented photographer.
In 2010, he created a Facebook page for the lost images and bought ads targeting people in the Barcelona area interested in photography, hoping to perhaps find the photographer or the subject of one of the photos.
See the beautiful images below:
The page became popular, and several people came forward to identify themselves or people they knew in the photos. But the identity of the photographer remained a mystery.
In 2017, Begoña Fernández discovered the Facebook page. Enraptured by the images, she plunged into a determined effort to uncover the photographer.
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.
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.
Billing her as Spain's answer to Vivian Maier, Fernández and Sponheim are now working to exhibit Caturla's work to a wider audience, starting with a show at Barcelona's Revela-T photography festival in May.