Notaries of the rearguard in the Civil War

'Frente de Aragón', the portrait of a militiaman captured by Kati Horna in 1937. / CNT-FAI Archive

The emotional photographs of Kati Horna and Margaret Michaelis, the eyes of the libertarian utopia, were rescued in Amsterdam in 2016

Michael Lorenci

If Robert Capa and Gerda Taro were the notaries at the front in the Spanish Civil War, Kati Horna and Margaret Michaelis were at the red rearguard. The images of these photographers of Jewish origin from Hungary and Poland, committed to anarchism, their collectivizing utopia and anti-fascism, slept the sleep of the just for decades. Until they were rescued from the famous 48 boxes sent by the FAI and the CNT to Amsterdam to safeguard their history by understanding that the war was lost.

The Royal Academy of Fine Arts now hosts in the rooms of the National Chalcography, within PHotoEspaña and next to Goya's war prints, the exhibition that highlights images that testify to the euphoria before a libertarian revolution in Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia that would be unsuccessful. For the first time, the bulk of the work of some female reporters is seen in Spain, "essential for understanding contemporary history and photography", according to Almudena Rubio, curator of 'The Amsterdam Boxes: Kati Horna and Margaret Michaelis in the Civil War', on bill until July 24.

Margaret Michaelis (Dziedzice, 1902-Melbourne, 1985) and Kati Horna (Budapest, 1912-Mexico, 2000) put their gaze and their work at the service of anarchism during the war. His photos of peasants, militiamen and workers proud of their new lives did not fall into Franco's hands nor did they disappear in his bombings. They were safeguarded at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, along with the rest of the material sent there by the CNT-FAI. They remained invisible in the Netherlands until 2016, when the file was inventoried and published. A task carried out by Almudena Rubio, art historian and researcher at the Dutch center.

Peasants from Albalatee de Cinca, by Micaelis (above). The CNT house in a building in the center of Barcelona (Michaelis) and a church converted into a carpentry shop, by kati Horna, / CNT-FAI Archive

Among more than 5,000 negatives and 2,000 positives, Rubio identified the 35-millimeter celluloids of Michaelis's Leica, which had been based in Barcelona since 1933 and worked for the CNT-FAI at the beginning of the war. Also the half a thousand 6x6 negatives from Kati Horna's Rolleiflex camera, who arrived in anti-fascist Barcelona in January 1937 and was the official photographer for the anarchists' foreign propaganda offices.

Thanks to Rubio's work, the unpublished legacy of these committed photographers "who did not hesitate to put their cameras at the service of the social revolution promoted by the anarchists" is exhibited. There are more than a hundred photos, including period originals and modern copies, focused on a proletariat "excited and happy to take control of their lives."

They are exhibited next to one of the 48 boxes, perhaps of rifles, in which they were stored with documents from the anarchists to safeguard their memory. In addition, a fragment of film is projected for the first time, perhaps filmed on the Aragón front and also found in the boxes in Amsterdam.

The exhibition begins with the outbreak of the war and the social revolution in Barcelona, ​​in a section dedicated to Michaelis, and his photos in Barcelona, ​​Huesca and Valencia. Horna takes the witness with his snapshots of Barcelona and the Aragon front taken during the seven months in which he worked for the anarchists, until his transfer to Valencia in July 1937.

PHotoEspaña claims the value of the work of both rescuing and publishing their legacy. "Together they offer us an unusual look at the war, documenting the revolutionary experience of anarchists in their quest to combat fascism and build a new society," summarizes the curator.

escape from Nazism

Margarethe Gross studied photography in Vienna and opened a studio in Berlin in 1932. She married Rudolf Michaelis, an anarcho-syndicalist with whom she arrived in Republican Barcelona fleeing the Nazis in 1933, and where she had two photographic studios under the name Foto-Elis.

At the outbreak of the war, he portrayed with his Leica the revolutionary fervor first and then the collectivized rearguard traveling to Aragón and Valencia together with Emma Goldman, an anarchist leader declared by the United States to be the most dangerous libertarian activist in the world. Photos of her were published in newspapers such as 'Solidaridad Obrera', 'L'Espagne Antisfaciste', 'Umbral' and 'Mujeres Libres' magazines and anarchist propaganda albums.

Katalin Deutch Blau belonged to a Jewish family in Budapest. She is active in the Hungarian left-wing movement, she was friends with Robert Capa and married fellow photographer Paul Partos. In 1929 they moved to Berlin and with the rise of Hitler they returned to Budapest and then traveled to Paris, where they survived Kati's reports on markets and cafes. In January 37 she travels to Barcelona. Like Catalina Polgare, she worked as an official photographer for the CNT-FAI and created the Spanish Photo Agency (Photo SPA), of which she would be the main photographer. She traveled to Xàtiva, Silla, Vélez Rubio, Gandía, Alcázar de San Juan, Madrid, Alcalá de Henares and Teruel to return to Barcelona in January 1938. In the magazine 'Umbral' she met her second husband, the Andalusian artist and anarchist José Horna, with whom she went into exile in Mexico in 1938. Installed in Colonia Roma, they would have their only daughter, Norah Horna, who under the name of Catalina Fernández dedicated her entire life to photography.

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