Monday, January 25, 2016

Historical Records: Mallorca in photos

Every picture tells a story. Today's obsession with social networks is both positive and less positive. Among all the vanity stuff, the endless selfies and plates of breakfast and Sunday roast, there are the endless treasures of landscapes, seascapes and buildings. But even these can have their monotony factor. However good the photo might be, yet more shots of Pollensa's Calvari, Palma's Cathedral or Cala Tuent are just that - yet more shots. There is nothing that isn't photographed - both well and not well - and uploaded to social media.

It didn't of course used to be like this. The scarcity of photographic evidence made what there was the very essence of historical treasure. Contemporary overfamiliarity lessens the impact. Much of today's photography - the stuff which can typify social media at any rate - lacks durability. This is not historical record for future generations, simply the deployment of technologies in the here and now.

A photographic exhibition has been ongoing since the end of October. It has now moved from the Archduke Louis Salvador building at the university to the same institution's Sa Riera. It will finish in mid-February. Its title is "Tourism in the Balearic and Pityusic Islands: A brief graphic history". Its very title is somewhat odd but also significant. The Balearics is a generic name for an archipelago that comprises the Gymnesian and Pityusic Islands: Mallorca and Menorca and Ibiza and Formentera. The Balearics is the catch-all. How often is the antiquity of the real island names referred to?

A publicity leaflet for this exhibition is itself somewhat odd. Its main image shows a dockside. There is an old post office (Correos) van parked next to what looks as though it may be a large fishing boat. A car is being winched onto the boat. It doesn't somehow seem representative of tourism, yet it probably was. It was taken in Palma in 1956. The photographer was Tom Weedon. This British resident of Fornalutx is one of the key names in Mallorca's photographic past. In October 2013, an exhibition of his work was opened at Palma's La Misericòrdia. Two years later, virtually to the day, the university's exhibition opened, with Weedon's curious Palma dockside photo assuming pride of publicity place.

Quirky and unexpected, the photo captures more than just a tourism past. Vehicles, people, technology, view: they are essential ingredients of excellent historical record, the scarce resource which, when it is made available, will always have the potential to intrigue and fascinate.

There is something else that is odd about the exhibition. Awareness of it has been limited. I came across it thanks to, yes, social media. I can't recall there having been any particular announcements or fuss made about it. And yet the title makes clear that here is a collection for something that is endlessly fascinating: Mallorca's past.

Of other images, there is one for two gentlemen in bathing costumes taken at the balneario in El Terreno in either 1919 or 1920. Here, El Terreno, is where tourism, more in the style of foreign residential tourism, was centred. There is a further one of a shanty town that was taken in 1966. It was situated by the Can Pere Antoni beach in Palma. Its significance is immense. Such shanties used to exist, side by side with tourism development. Some housed workers who were employed in building, while others were for the poor. One of the abiding images I have of the first time I came to Mallorca was of a small shanty at the back of the hotel we stayed at in Arenal.

The specific source from social media that led me to find out about this exhibition was the Facebook page for Fotos Antiguas de Mallorca. This, together with a separate blog, is the most remarkable single photographic resource devoted to Mallorca's past, and not only tourism past. A labour of social media love, it throws up the occasional teases or questions. Where is this a photo of? A recent black-and-white one shows a cove with a handful of buildings and a mountain in the background. It isn't said when it was taken, but the answers as to where it is are varied: Camp de Mar, Colonia Sant Pere, Cala Agulla. The more likely answer is Cala Barques in Cala Sant Vicenç.

The Balearic tourism ministry wishes to use some of the revenue raised by the tourist tax to assist in preservation of the islands' heritage. This ministry has, however, and via its promotional wings, consistently failed in presenting this heritage, through photography and other media, to a tourist public. Old talk of a tourism museum was only ever talk: it never happened. If it believes in heritage, it should make an award to Fotos Antiguas de Mallorca.

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