Art Seen

It Took 16 Years For A Man To Uncover The Identity Of A Mysteriously Talented Photographer

The photos were just sitting at a flea market.

It only cost Tom Sponheim $3.50 to uncover a photographer's range of work.

It was the summer of 2001, and Sponheim and his wife were visiting Barcelona on vacation. On a trip through a flea market, he saw a stack of photo negatives and offered to pay the vendor a dollar more than their initial asking price after seeing that their exposure quality was good.

When Sponheim got home and scanned the images, he unearthed a photographer's work. One whose name he didn't even know. So he set out to change that.

The search officially made its way online in 2010 when he created a Facebook page to figure out the identity of the photographer or a subject in one of the photos who could lead him in the right direction. Sponheim used social media to his advantage and bought ads to target residents in Barcelona who were interested in photography.


His quest to find this photographer was motivated from a loss of his own. While moving from California to Washington, his family photos were stolen.

"I thought if I can't find my family's photos, at least maybe I could find those of another family," he said to A Plus in a message.

He also said he was compelled to move forward with the search "because the photos were so good, and because I didn't want another family to lose their heritage."

In 2017, Sponheim finally got an answer to his decades-long question when a woman named Begoña Fernández went into full research mode. After examining details of every photograph to identify locations, researching Agrupació Fotográfica de Catalunya –– a longstanding photography association –– and flipping through pages of an old magazine to find the fourth-place contestant in a photography contest, she finally had one.

The photographer's name was Milagros Caturla. Until her death in 2008, she was a teacher turned administrator whose passion for photography led her to win local contests and keep a darkroom in her apartment.

Upon learning the news of who the photographer was after years of pondering, Sponheim was excited, but was immediately sad to learn she had passed away.

Fernández and Sponheim, however, are not letting Caturla's work fade away. Instead, they're exposing her work to more people with a new exhibition at Barcelona's Revela-T photography festival.

Although Sponheim was unable to connect with Caturla before her death, his experience has not discouraged him from future excursions to track down old photographs. He said he plans on finding more negatives or prints with names on the back.

And for those reading about his journey to track down Caturla will be inspired to do the same.

"I hope they will learn to keep their eye out for photos that other families might have lost," he said. "Who knows, maybe someone will contact me someday having found my family's photos."

Celebrate National Photo Month by checking out more of Caturla's work below:







(H/T: Mashable)


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