The first photograph that reached us was from 1901 and shows Girona city wall.

Valentí Fragnoli Ianetta was sixteen years old when he took it. He was born in a boarding house in the Barcelona Rambla when his parents, from Naples, were passing through the city. Even though he lived in Italy for the first years of his life the family moved to the Girona area, first in Verges, then La Bisbal, Figueres and finally Girona itself, where they stayed put.

Valentí Fargnoli, Women and girls doing the laundry in a public utility room, Torroella de Montgrí, 1911-1915. (Fons i Col·lecció Emili Massanas i Burcet. INSPAI, Centre de la Imatge de la Diputació de Girona).

Fargnoli was not a studio photographer. For four decades he went around the villages and spots of Catalonia and Spain taking pictures of lives and trades, landscapes and architecture. He used a bicycle to get around (shame there are not images of that) the Girona countryside. In the evening he would come home and develop his photograph using materials he made himself, such as the developer and fixer. With a carefully calculated composition of lines, he was one of the few photographers of the period to sign his negatives. His legacy (a collection held by the INSPAI, the Image Centre of the Diputació de Girona) covers genres such as social reporting, advertising (Fargnoli was the photographer from a number of commercial posters: he made his living from them), portraits and heritage photography. This is a high quality collection which is now being shown together for the first time.

Valentí Fargnoli, Monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes. To the top on the right, the castle of Sant Salvador de Verdera, the Port de la Selva, 1915-1935. (Fons Valentí Fargnoli. INSPAI, Centre de la Imatge de la Diputació de Girona).

For the 75th anniversary of his death, Girona is paying homage to Fargnoli with three exhibitions. Valentí Fargnoli. El paisatge revelat at the Casa de Cultura presents the most ethnographic and landscape-oriented of his works, with images of villages, coves and tree-lined streets in an idyllic Costa Brava, but also and especially of men and women, girls and boys, stonemasons and smiths, wheat threshers, laundry workers and other trades which have been lost. The gazes and gestures, moments of work and of leisure, complicities and hopes, reach us from those who were lucky enough not to live for the camera.

Fargnoli brought around 2,000 negatives to the Mas Archive.

A second exhibition at the Museum of History, Valentí Fargnoli. L’art en la fotografia, presents the heritage photography of the artist which he carried out at a time when he realised that the awareness of a collective past had yet to be articulated. It was during the 1910s and 1920s that some forward looking people began to value and promote the care of artistic and archaeological heritage.

Portrait of Valentí Fargnoli, 1911. Taller d’Història de Maçanet de la Selva. Photo: Unknown author.

The names are well known… Puig i Cadafalch, Josep Pijoan, Caterina Albert, Rafel Masó… and Adolf Mas. It was the latter, also a photographer, together with the architect Jeroni Martorell, who coordinated this unprecedented project. The Institute for Catalan Studies, which had been created a few years earlier, commissioned them in 1918 to compile the Iconographic Inventory of Catalonia – a project which was extended to the whole peninsula as the Iconographic Repertoire of Spain. Among tasks such as the selection of the monuments, documentations and design of the way in which such a huge task could be carried out, they also selected the photographer who would be needed to see it through. In 1916 they contacted Fargnoli to commission the initial collaboration, which finally lasted until the 1930s.

Andalusian wooden chest and ivory chest of the 11th century of the Cathedral of Girona, 1919. Institut Amatller d’Art Hispànic. Arxiu Mas – Ajuntament de Girona CRDI. Photo: V. Fargnoli.

Fargnoli brought around 2,000 negatives to the Mas Archive. Romanic capitels, the collapsed nave of the church of Sant Pere de Rodes, the exhibition halls of the Museum of Archaeology of Catalonia, Gothic chests, religious jewels…and a host of photographic documentation together with an epistolary exchange between Adolf mas and Fargnoli is on show at the Museum of History. The exhibition begins with a recently published study by Joan Boadas of the Girona Municipal Archive on Fargnoli’s method and conditions for working using previously unseen documentation from the Mas Archive.

A woman in the kitchen with well of Can Poma, also known as Can Prat. Sant Feliu de Pallerols, 1918. Institut Amatller d’Art Hispànic. Arxiu Mas – Ajuntament de Girona CRDI. Photo: V. Fargnoli.

Finally, the third exhibit, which is as exquisite as it is small, is presented at the Jewish history Museum: Stones with a Name. A single photograph (yes, just one!) which had been forgotten even by those responsible for the iconographic Inventory of Catalonia, showing five Jewish tombstones with their inscriptions in Hebrew, explains the value of the names which confirm the existence of lives in the transmission of history. This exhibition exercise shows how even if those responsible for the repertoire did not know how to include Jewish culture in the collective past which has to be conserved, Fragnoli did and he documented it anyway.

Even though we don’t know what his intention was, the fact is that he advanced the importance of conserving Jewish culture by a few years. Fargnoli dies in Girona in 1944. He was 58.