The Colour of a Photographic Voice 1899-1906

Since 1899 Josefina Oliver devotes entirely to photography and to illuminate (hand-colour) her copies, though keeping no awareness of the avant-garde work she is achieving.

She learns different techniques with her father, friends, neighbours and details them on her Diary, like the shops where she buys materials, and the people who go to her home to be portrayed or ask her to record their family events.

‘Saturday 29th – (…) We went to Lepage by car to buy plates and then to the Grau’s. There I took myself a photo posing as manola with Amelia and also side-faced and in a low hairdo. Then Amelia, Fissas and I went to the darkroom and spent nearly two hours working on developing 18 plates (…)’ Diary 2, p.073

‘Thursday 1st - Ema and Enriqueta Castells had come. We refused to see them because they come to be portrayed, and I’m not in the mood today’ Diary 2, p.394

‘Thursday 19th – Ema Castells came home to spend the afternoon. I took two portraits of her; in the evening I asked Arturo to accompany her home.’ Diary 2, p.420

‘Saturday 12th - Pedro came home to be portrayed, I made three portraits of him. (…) I stayed in developing the portraits, two of which are very nice.’ Diary 2, p.436

Between 1899 and 1900 her father, Pedro Oliver, buys two cameras for his daughters:

‘(...) Dad took us 6 photographs with the camera he bought for us yesterday (...) .’ Diary 2, p.116

‘(…) and brought to San Vicente the Edison camera that costs 200$ (...).’ Diary 2, p.127

Josefina starts photographing herself early and generates along the time a series of ninety self-portraits: an inquiry of the self in a time when the woman, a mere decorative figure, lacks personal aims or questions about herself.

She sets up her bedroom as a studio for taking portraits, using a mirror in many of them.

And she takes photos in their outings, group walks or on her father’s farm.

She stages photos, in which humour overflies. Over that period of time, she will miss Cata, her favourite model.

‘In 1902, on 19th July my sister Catalina married Genaro García – aged 28 years old – from Leon - trader (…) they settled in San Martín de las Escobas, a colony in Santa Fe - where Genaro has his store (…)’ ‘Yo’ Autobiog., Diary 16 p.157

Since this marriage until her engagement in 1906, Josefina has an intense time with an appealing quest in photography, with many self-portraits, shots to friends, to the first three García Oliver nephews, carnivals, and group outings to Quilmes, or San Martín de las Escobas and later Rosario, in Santa Fe, where the newlyweds live.

In May 1903 she goes to Europe for the first time with the couple. In Spain she buys a new camera and keeps a written record of these four months on photographs and on 67 pages of her Diary.

Apart from developing photographs, Josefina illuminates (hand-colours) the 9 x 12 cm copies, with albumin colours, using intense tones, rare and avant-garde for a time characterized by black and white or sepia. Her friends appreciate such personal interventions.

‘(…) I took them both portraits of Porota, and they were praising them for an hour and begging me to take a portrait to Cecilia’s girl and to colour it the same as Porota’s (…)’ PostFt PV_026b

She usually copies some photos several times, recreating them with illuminations and different reframings and implementing variations on the same theme in this way.

Josefina achieves public recognition for her photography, as she tells her sister:

‘Catalina, (…) I’m glad you liked my last photo. You will tell me what you think about the one I’m sending you today. All the ones who went to the picnic in Quilmes have given me a present, a big and beautiful gold medal with my monogram and the pic-nic date, together with an artistic scroll with everybody’s signatures (40 people) they give me this great demostration as a way of thanking me for the photographs I took and handed out amongst them. Apart from this they will dedicate me another pic-nic as soon as spring comes. (…) I feel a little conceited since I have never been so regaled. (…) Goodbye kisses to the children, Patapina 15th June 1906’ Postc PV_007

This outing, in April 1906, ends up with the love declaration of her cousin, Pepe Salas Oliver, with whom she will get married on 12th December 1907.