When American tourist Tom Sponheim bought a stack of photo negatives for $3.50 in a flea market in Barcelona back in 2001, he probably wasn’t expecting to find the secret work of a master photographer hidden inside them. But that’s exactly what he found when he returned home and developed them, because as you can see below, the pictures he discovered are nothing short of stunning.
Keen to learn more about the mysterious person behind the lens, Sponheim set up a Facebook page in 2010. On it he hosted the images he’d developed and bought ads targeting photography enthusiasts in Barcelona. Despite the page’s popularity however, and despite various people identifying themselves or friends in the photographs, the identity of the photographer remained unknown until Begoña Fernández stumbled upon the page in 2017. Awed by the beauty of the pictures, she set upon a fervent quest to get to the bottom of the mystery.
First she managed to identify an elementary school in one of the photographs, and from there she learned about a photography contest in 1962 with similar shooting locations to those in the pictures. Her research eventually led her to the archives of an old photography association called the Agrupació Fotográfica de Catalunya, and there, after more digging, she eventually found a picture in a magazine that she recognised from Tom’s Facebook page. The image was credited to a Milagros Caturla, a woman who trained as a teacher but worked as an administrator. She was a keen photographer who won various local contests and even had a dark room in her apartment before her death in 2008. While she's sadly no longer alive, Fernández and Sponheim are determined to ensure her legacy lives on by introducing her work to a wider audience. Caturla’s photographs will appear at Barcelona’s Revela-T photography festival in May, and we hope it’s the first of many, because there’s no denying that her work deserves to be on the walls of galleries everywhere, and not on the tables of flea markets.