Monday, February 26, 2018

Guillem Bestard And Mallorca's Early Photography

Pollensa town hall is to spend 277,500 euros on a collection of photos. This isn't any old collection. It is one that will be bought so that it remains the property of the people of Pollensa. It is the Bestard archive, one of the most famous and most important of all photographic collections in Mallorca.

The town hall will make four separate and equal payments over four years. In return, it will receive part of the collection every three months. The photos will be catalogued and stored in Can Llobera, the family home of the Pollensa poet Miquel Costa i Llobera. Eventually, there will be a room at the Pollensa Museum which will be used for a permanent exhibition. There would need to be a fair amount of space, if they were to in fact display the whole collection at one time. The exact number of photos isn't known for sure, but it is believed to be as many 400,000: they were taken over a period of one hundred years by three different generations.

The decision to purchase the collection was made at last week's council meeting. At that meeting it was also agreed to start the procedure by which Guillem Bestard will be named an illustrious son of Pollensa. It was Guillem who started it all off. The year was 1898.

The Bestard family ran an inn. A German painter came to Pollensa in 1898 and stayed at the inn. Guillem was seventeen; the painter introduced him to the camera. The rest was history that endured until 2006, and it is a history that has acquired a worth of more than a quarter of a million euros. While one might sometimes question town hall spending, there surely cannot be any criticism of this investment: one of the most remarkable archives that reveals Mallorca from the start of the last century.

The name Bestard can often be found on old photos of Mallorca. The majority of the photos that Guillem took in the early years were landscapes and scenes of fishing villages, such as his own - Puerto Pollensa. But he had a broader scope. He photographed Antoni Maura in 1910. Maura was the first and only Mallorcan to have been the prime minister of Spain.

His fame spread beyond Mallorca. His work was used for the Madrid daily newspaper El Sol. It was also featured in National Geographic. He received the gold medal for artistic photography at the international exhibition in Paris of 1910; other awards were to follow.

The early work in the Bestard archive is one of only a handful of collections to have survived. Another is that of Josep Truyol. While renowned as a photographer, Truyol had another claim to fame: he was one of the pioneers of film in Mallorca, if not the pioneer.

The claim to having been Mallorca's first photographer is somewhat disputed. One name who stands out in this regard was a Frenchman - Jules Virenque Chastain. He came to Mallorca in 1855. Three years later, he married Francesca Simó. The couple opened a photographic studio in Palma. Virenque was to become friendly with the Austrian Archduke Louis Salvador. His photos were to form the basis of illustrations in the Archduke's master work, Die Balearen. There is one very famous photo of the Archduke and family. The precise year is unclear, but Virenque died in 1876; the Archduke had arrived in Mallorca nine years earlier.

The Welsh photographer Charles Clifford, whose career as a photographer was developed in Spain, took photos of Queen Isabel II when she visited Mallorca in 1860. The official album of that visit is in the safekeeping of Palma town hall.

Then there was also one Francisco Muntaner Llampayes. He was from a family of engravers based in Palma and he collaborated with an industrialist and intellectual, Bartolomé Sureda, and Pere d'Alcàntara Penya, who nowadays has fame as the writer of the Sa Colcada poem that it is recited every New Year's Eve to mark the conquest of Jaume I in 1229.

Anyway, it would seem that Muntaner began using collotype (invented by the Frenchman Alphonse Louis Poitevin in 1856) for works by Sureda and Alcàntara Penya, which appeared in the first travel guide to the Balearic Islands. Muntaner wasn't really a photographer; he sought ways to improve other processes. But in some circles he is described as Mallorca's first photographer. Whether he was or he wasn't, he helped pave the way for those who were to follow, such as Guillem Bestard.

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