Virxilio Vieitez. Álbum,1998

 VIRXILO VIEiTEZ

Texto do libro editado polo Centro de Estudos Fotográficos na colección Álbum en 1998.  Primerio libro publicado sobre Virxilio Vieitez. ISBN:84-87882-09-9

Manuel Sendón

Xosé Luis Suárez Canal

En ocasións pénsase que os traballos fotográficos máis interesantes atópanse só nos arquivos dos estudios máis importantes das cidades, esquecendo inxustamente aos fotógrafos instalados nas vilas do país, que aínda que con medios máis modestos poden chegar a ter unha obra de excepcional interese. Bo exemplo disto é Virxilio Vieitez, quen sen lugar a dúbidas ocupa un lugar senlleiro dentro da historia da fotografía galega.

Este libro é o resultado do estudio da obra realizada por Virxilio Vieitez entre 1955 e 1965, e para o mesmo foron copiados por contacto todos os negativos do período 1955-62 e gran parte dos do período 62-65, e logo realizáronse innumerábeis copias de estudio dos negativos considerados máis interesantes, dos que se escolmaron os aquí publicados, sendo conscientes de que dentro do material non escollido quedaban tamén imaxes de interese. Este estudio foi posíbel gracias ao entusiasmo e traballo de Keta Vieitez, quen dedicou moitas horas, algunhas delas en condicións non moi favorábeis, á realización do traballo de copiado. Así mesmo foi ela quen positivou, cunha magnifica calidade, o centenar e medio de copias da exposición, coa excepción dos dez murais positivados por José Vázquez Caruncho. Queremos do mesmo xeito agradecer a colaboración prestada por Virxilio Vieitez e pola súa muller Xulia Cendón.

Virxilio Vieitez nace en 1930 en Soutelo de Montes, unha poboación situada no linde da provincia de Pontevedra coa de Ourense, que vivía do agro e da emigración. Por unha banda as más condicións económicas da súa familia e por outra o feito de que o seu pai, despois dunha breve estancia nos Estados Unidos, marche para Francia cando el tiña tres meses facendo que nunca máis o volvese ver, fixeron que non puidese asistir con regularidade á escola primaria ao ter que ir co gando ao monte. A pesar destas circunstancias gustáballe ler os libros aos que tiña acceso, e recordaque “estudiaba a aritmética comprobando os resultados que viñan ao final do libro. A pouca formación que tiven conseguina por min mesmo”. Á idade de 16 anos vai traballar nas obras de construción do aeroporto de Santiago coa idea de facerse mecánico, pero como as condicións de traballo non eran boas, “das 12 pesetas que cobraba de xornal 10 íanse en pagar a pensión”, decide aos dezaoito anos marchar ao Pirineo aragonés. Alí traballa nos teleféricos próximos a Panticosa e ten o primeiro contacto coa fotografía. Merca unha Kodak de caixón de formato 6×9, coa que toma paisaxes e retratos dos seus compañeiros de traballo, aos que posteriormente llelos vendía, seguindo a práctica que aprendera doutro compañeiro en Lavacolla. A vida no Pirineo era dura, “ía moito frío e nas trabes dos barracóns había cobras negras aínda que inofensivas”. Esta situación unida ao feito de que lle comezase a coller medo ao estraperlo de tabaco no que se metera, levárono a pedir o traslado na mesma compañía a San Feliú de Gixols. Alí segue a tirar fotos, e gracias á amizade cunha empregada do fotógrafo da localidade Manetes, aprende no seu estudio a revelar polas noites ao saír do seu traballo, “era material ortocromático que revelabamos meténdoo e sacándoo da cubeta á luz do farol vermello”.

No ano 49 volve de vacacións á súa vila, pero en vez de facelo cun gran coche como moitos dos emigrantes, fíxoo cunha bonita bicicleta de cor vermella, o que levou a nai a dicir “é o golfo máis golfo do lugar, en vez de cartos trae unha bicicleta”. Posteriormente trasládase a Palamós e empeza a traballar como empregado do fotógrafo Pallí, porque as condicións de vida lle parecían máis cómodas, “antes tíñame que duchar tres veces e aínda así non era capaz de eliminar o cheiro a gas-oil, coa foto podía vivir de gravata fóra da roña”, circunstancia importante para el, dado o seu gusto polo alterne. Con Pallí aprende o manexo de cámara e o traballo de laboratorio, pero como quería ter máis coñecementos sobre fotografía inscríbese nun curso por correspondencia. Como Pallí se dedicaba a facer o traballo de relacións públicas deixaba o traballo fotográfico para os seus empregados, realizando Virxilio tanto fotografía de rúa como de estudio, cubrindo algunhas informacións gráficas para La Vanguardia, e incluso facendo “fotografías pornográficas para mandar a Francia. Con este tipo de fotografías non tiñamos problemas porque lle dabamos algunha á policía e á Garda Civil”.

Desprazábase na súa bicicleta polas praias próximas, era o momento en que estaba a comezar o boom do turismo na Costa Brava, facéndolles “fotografías aos turistas que as querían levar como recordo da súa estancia alí, sendo preciso que aparecera nelas algunha paisaxe como fondo. Faciamostamén fotografías nun club próximo,non eran pornográficas, eran ver e non ver”. Parte dos negativos realizados en Cataluña tráeos posteriormente a Galicia, pero dado o seu carácter inflamábel, acabarían incendiándose ao buscar un deles nunha ocasión cando estaba a fumar.

No ano 55, cando estaba a punto de se establecer de forma independente na Praia de Aro, ten que voltar a Galicia ao atoparse a súa nai enferma, e uns meses despois ao morrer esta, ten que ir facer o servicio militar á Coruña, estando xa casado con Xulia Cendón e tendo un fillo. Nese momento xa contaba con clientela na bisbarra usando o nome de Fotografía Perello, alcume do seu pai que lle gustaba, porque na súa opinión Perello asemellábase a Perelló que lle soaba a catalán.

Ao voltar do servicio no ano 57 reemprende o traballo fotográfico en Soutelo, abandonando a Retina coa que traballara anteriormente e mercando unha cámara Rollei, coa que realiza o seu traballo máis interesante. Posteriormente, no ano 1958, compra unha nova cámara de 35mm, unha Voigtlander, ao considerar que “o medio formato ao ter menos fotogramas implicaba que tiveras que cargar a cámara no medio da reportaxe”.

Daquela non había ningún fotógrafo establecido na vila e a el acudían diferentes fotógrafos doutras localidades como Graña, Foto Paco, Félix Tilve de Pontevedra e Cela de Marín, aos que habería que engadir Aurelio do Carballiño, nos concellos de Avión e Beariz ata que nos anos sesenta Virxilio se fai con toda a clientela. Dunha forma especial cómpre falar de Ramos, establecido en Codeseda, fotógrafo de gran prestixio, ao que acudían os veciños de Soutelo de Montes para seren retratados antes de que se instalase Virxilio Vieitez. Traballou arreo por toda a comarca, e Beariz, Avión, Pedre, Millerada, San Marcos, Sanguñedo, A Barcia, Cambeses, Borralleiro, Seixido, Edreira ou Barro de Area son algúns dos lugares aos que acudiu con frecuencia. Sen embargo a súa actividade centrábase fundamentalmente na súa vila e en Cerdedo, a onde acudía todas as mañás dos domingos á saída da misa. Ao mesmo tempo exerce de corresponsal de El Pueblo Gallego e da emisora Voz de Vigo da que máis que traballo xornalístico facía traballo de tipo comercial.

Dentro da súa actividade ocupan un lugar importante os retratos para o carné de identidade, sobre todo cando este se fai obrigatorio a principios da década dos sesenta, percorrendo coa súa Lambretta as vilas e aldeas próximas, permitíndolle este tipo de traballo sacar un importante rendemento económico. As vodas foron outra ocupación constante, chegando nalgún momento a realizar unha voda diaria agás aos martes, día en que ninguén ousaba casar. Posteriormente, no ano 67, “comprei un Seat 1.500, o coche das noivas, un 600 non servía para levar as noivas”, debendo nalgunhas ocasións desprazarse a vilas distantes. Co tempo o número de vodas vai baixando ata quedar reducido fundamentalmente a xoves e sábados.

Na década dos sesenta empeza a introducir a cor, alternándoa co branco e negro moi ao seu pesar, pois prefería este último, porque lle permitía encadrar e traballar posteriormente a fotografía. Sen embargo a cor foise impondo, e ao empezar a década dos setenta a metade do traballo realizábao a cor. Mediada a década dos oitenta abandona totalmente a actividade fotográfica. Ao comezar a década dos noventa establécese como fotógrafa en Soutelo de Montes a súa filla Keta, que na década dos oitenta tiña saído ocasionalmente a traballar con el e aprendido o oficio. Será ela quen no verán do ano 97 organice na súa vila a primeira, e única exposición que se ten realizado da súa obra ata agora, mostrando case un centenar das súas fotografías.

A técnica de Virxilio Vieitez, sobre todo no que se refire aos negativos de formato 6 x 6 é dunha calidade excelente. Dentro dos de 35mm, a calidade xeral é boa, coa excepción dun período no que teñen menor definición e grao máis voluminoso. Calidade que chama máis atención polas condicións en que foi realizada. O lavado das copias e dos negativos tiña que ir facelos á fonte pública, ata o ano 64 no que se instala a traída de augas na vila. Traballa tamén con formato 10×12 da cámara de estudio, facendo fotografías no interior con iluminación artificial. Adoitaba positivar en tamaño 7×10 cm, cando as fotografías ían destinadas ás carteiras, e en 10×15 cm cando eran para ser enviadas a América. Nas reportaxes de vodas, bautizos e comunións era frecuente o formato 13×18 e nalgunhas ocasións o 15×20 ou o 18×24, tendo realizado tamén copias de maior tamaño, ata 50×60, para seren enmarcadas e penduradas nalgunha casa.

A súa obra está composta fundamentalmente por imaxes realizadas no exterior, tanto porque se movía dun lugar a outro como porque o prefería ao traballo realizado no estudio, ao darlle máis liberdade, considerando que era menos monótono. Así, facía frecuentemente saír á súa horta a moitos dos clientes que acudían á súa casa para seren fotografados, substuíndo os tradicionais fondos de estudio por naturais fondos vexetais, dando lugar a resultados completamente insólitos como o retrato de primeira comuñón onde se presenta a nena metida no medio das verzas, malia a solemnidade da ocasión, ou o lixeiro contrapicado dunha moza na que o fondo afastado e a máis luxosa casa da vila, O Chalet, e o primeiro plano volve ser un conxunto de verzas, sendo esta unha das escasas imaxes que non é unha toma frontal. Noutras cómpre destacar a harmonía entre o fondo vexetal e algún elemento tamén vexetal que introducía no primeiro plano, como un ramo de flores. É de subliñar, así mesmo, o uso que fai das estradas, como escenario para moitas das súas fotografías, reforzando considerabelmente a presencia do suxeito, situado no centro da imaxe, dándolle un maior impacto visual provocado pola sensación de espacio baleiro que xeraba.

A Virxilio non lle servía calquera fondo; nas súas imaxes coida con atención os fondos e os diferentes elementos que introduce, así como a posición do suxeito e a relación entre eles se son varios. El mesmo exprésao con estas palabras “era necesario incluír algún elemento para que o fotografado non quedase como unha estaca”.Non debe de resultar estraña a inclusión de animais domésticos como a cabra, o gato ou o can, pero o que si resulta sorprendente é a forma en que o fai, misturándoos coas persoas vestidas de festa, como na realizada en San Marcos onde unha moza elegantemente vestida, con zapatos de tacón, agarra ao mesmo tempo a corda da cabra e o bolso de vestir. Chama a atención pola súa beleza a secuencia na que se mostra a toda a familia co can, en dúas patas, como se se tratase dun membro máis, e logo fotografa por separado a nai, e ao fillo co gato no colo sobre un fondo vexetal que cobre todo o fotograma. O can é un elemento que contribúe en máis dunha ocasión a darlle forza visual ás fotografías; como exemplo podemos citar a do vello coa nena, e a do neno na estrada con cara de certa desconfianza na que o can mira á cámara como se el tamén fose consciente de que está a ser retratado. En ocasións o papel que nalgunhas destas imaxes cumpren os animais ocúpano outros elementos, sendo frecuente que as mulleres nos retratos individuais as fixese pousar con algún obxecto nas mans, un ramo de flores, un costureiro ou unha carteira.

A importancia que para el ten a escenificación, que controlaba con gran sensibilidade, non dá lugar nunca a imaxes sofisticadas, gratuítas ou recargadas. A súa gran forza esta na súa sinxeleza, a pesar do inusitadas que resulten algunhas delas, como na que fai posar a tres mulleres entre dous maceteiros colocados no medio da estrada. En definitiva podemos dicir que estamos ante unha forma de traballar que nunca vimos nos arquivos antes estudiados.

Cómpre reparar no gran número de imaxes que Virxilio constrúe introducindo como fondo os monumentais Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Fords ou Cadillacs que os emigrantes traían de América, converténdoos en elemento importantísimo da imaxe. Para el estes luxosos “haigas”eran unha novidade e un luxo que resultaba atractivo para incluír na fotografía. Resulta curioso, ao estudiar os negativos, como un mesmo coche é o escenario para unha secuencia de imaxes, nas que vai variando en cada fotograma a persoa que aparece diante. Noutras ocasións é un grupo ou unha familia a que coloca diante do coche.

O mesmo lugar dos coches ocúpano os autobuses das empresas El Numancia ou La Montañesa, ou a súa propia moto, que aparece en gran número de fotografías. A variación dos coches vainos indicando o cambio da sociedade, así observaremos a substitución dos coches americanos polos europeos e veremos irrompir o mil cincocentos e o seiscentos.

Se ben a historia de Galicia está totalmente marcada pola emigración, convén lembrar que as décadas dos cincuenta e sesenta son as que rexistran unha maior emigración de todo o século, e que na Terra de Montes foi particularmente intensa, dirixíndose a Brasil, Panamá, Venezuela e México.

As fotografías nas que aparecen os “haigas” reflicten claramente a situación xerada pola emigración. Unha situación en que os coches americanos aparecían en estradas que máis que tales eran case camiños, onde a economía campesiña carecía da máis elemental maquinaria e a poboación dos máis elementais servicios. Non deixa de semellar unha situación surreal o ver un deses haigas aparcado diante dunha casa que aínda debía agardar dez anos para ter un servicio tan elemental como a auga corrente, e onde os 110 voltios que anunciaba a corrente apenas chegaban a oitenta, dando lugar a un ambiente totalmente mortecino nas longas noites do inverno. As súas imaxes, sen embargo non van ter en ningún caso intencionalidade de denuncia, nin sequera o fotógrafo se sentía identificado co país, ao contrario, a el teríalle gustado non ter voltado, e o atraso económico que se vivía en Galicia, e no mundo rural dunha forma máis acuciante, considerábao como algo inevitábel.

Moitas das imaxes foron encargadas para seren enviadas á familia que estaba en América, adquirindo a fotografía un papel notarial. A do neno co parrulo e o avión da Pan American, encargáralla a avoa logo de vestilo de festa, para amosarlle aos seus pais que o neno estaba ben coidado. Algo similar ocorría na da señora cunha radio “á que quería como se fose un familiar máis. Mandáranlle os cartos para comprala e ela quería enviar a fotografía como testemuña da súa adquisición”, nela ao ocupar a radio o sitio da persoa na cadeira, pasándolle a man por detrás, amosa claramente tanto o importante que para a señora era a radio como a soidade que parecía vivir.

Ao falar da fotografía de Virxilio Vieitez cómpre referirse dunha forma moi específica aos seus retratos tirados en “tempos economicamente moi diferentes, daquela había que ter cartos para o retrato, para o traxe e para o calzado”. Así unha simple ollada delata claramente que se vestían para a foto co mellor traxe, sendo en ocasións a compra do novo vestido o motivo da fotografía. Tampouco non era raro que a roupa fose enviada dende América e a imaxe tirábase para mandarlla en sinal de agradecemento. Son elocuentes as imaxes nas que os mozos aperecen usando patalóns aos panchos ou chaquetas estarricadas, nas que se apalpa a penuria que se vivía naqueles anos. Virxilio recorda como ao facer os retratos en ocasións tiña que tratar de agachar os pés do retratado, porque aínda que o traxe era novo notábase que os zapatos eran vellos. A análise detallada da vestimenta, dos peiteados, dos obxectos e das poses que nelas aparecen fornécenos dunha abundante información visual sobre esa época.

Mentres que nos retratos de corpo enteiro a escenificación é como xa vimos moi coidada, nos retratos de busto ou medio corpo, dos que hai gran cantidade, a simplicidade da escena é na maioría dos casos total aparecendo en moitos deles soamente un pano branco que cobre total ou parcialmente o fondo levando sempre nun gran número deles o mesmo “sete”. Noutros casos vemos como unha colcha pode acabar converténdose tamén no único elemento que cobre un fondo para facer as veces de telón fondo que empregaban os estudios das grandes cidades. Estes últimos retratos, a maioría realizados para o carné de identidade coa cámara de 35 mm, son tamén de grande interese e poden ser considerados como un retrato colectivo da comarca. Nestes retratos atopamos persoas pertencentes a todos os grupos sociais; así veremos labregos, comerciantes, cregos, guardias civís, mulleres, homes, vellos, mozos, nenos…

Todos os seus retratos teñen unha serie de características comúns, á parte da xa mencionada escenografía buscada ou construída, o estatismo, a rixidez, a frontalidade, a posición central do suxeito, mirada directa a cámara e certos trazos comúns en todas as expresións acaban por darlle un extraordinario encanto, unidade e coherencia a toda a súa obra. En ocasións lémbranos a August Sander ( Mozas do campo, Moza no día da súa primeira comuñón, Nenos do campo) e os retratos de Paul Strand e tamén os que nesas datas ou posteriormente realizaron Diana Arbus ou Richard Avedon. A título de exemplo poderiamos resaltar a semellanza do retrato dos dous noivos de medio corpo con algúns de Diana Arbus ou o retrato do home que aparece nunha composición desequilibrada rodeado dunha gran masa branca con outros de Richard Avedon. Nin que dicir ten que Virxilio non coñecía nin a estes nin a ningún outro fotógrafo significativo da historia da fotografía.

Se a escenificación é sumamente importante nas súas fotos non o é menos a gran capacidade que ten para captar a expresión das xentes que fotografa, obtendo imaxes dunha extraordinaria vida. Así ao analizar os rostros das persoas por el retratadas atoparemos expresións de tristeza, as condicións de vida en todos os aspectos non eran para outra cousa, de desconfianza, e nalgún caso de satisfacción, pero todas elas acompañadas dunha expresión de seriedade. Seriedade que unida á coidadosa elección da vestimenta, mostra o respecto que tiñan naquel momento polo acto de retratarse, era un acto absolutamente excepcional e trascendente, tendo por tanto un significado moi diferente ao de hoxe, como el mesmo di “agora é distinto porque en cada casa hai unha máquina”.

Dunha forma particular é preciso referirse aos retratos de nenos, algúns vestidos de primeira comuñón e outros vestidos de domingo para a fotografía coas roupas características do momento, parecendo en moitas ocasións homiños, que sempre miraban tamén a cámara fixamente, coa mesma frontalidade e estatismo dos retratos dos adultos.

O gran dominio que tiña do retrato permitíalle acadar as imaxes que obtiña tirando normalmente un só negativo por retrato, sendo raros os casos en que tira dous fotogramas, “non estragaba ningunha placa”. O control que el exercía sobre os suxeitos e a capacidade para prever os resultados era total, “o cliente non tiña voz, o único que lle interesaba era saír guapo e non se preocupaba para nada do fondo da imaxe, eles mesmos preguntaban onde se tiñan que pór. Non era como agora, quen mandaba era o fotógrafo, era como un notario”. Un exemplo do seu control sobre a escena é o retrato dos segadores coas súas gadañas, do que existe outro negativo no que a pose e a expresión dos catro homes é a mesma, non moveran nin un músculo da cara no tempo que hai entre os dous, e sen embargo ese tempo foi suficiente para que desaparecera o neno que estaba parado no fondo. O mesmo poderiamos dicir de dous fotogramas da mata do porco.

Algúns dos seus retratos tráennos a mente as referencias cinematográficas do momento. O mozo louro, pousado sobre o capó dun Chevrolet, fainos lembrar a James Dean, o de lentes escuras sobre o capó e o outro apoiado na árbore coa chaqueta na man aos galáns do neorrealismo, ou do cinema realista español da época. Semellanzas determinadas máis pola pose e a ambientación da imaxe que polo propio parecido físico.

O traballo de reportaxe considérao menos interesante que os retratos, “as reportaxes (vodas, bautizos..) eran rutinarias, o fotógrafo non dirixe a acción. Nos retratos era diferente”,sen embargo podemosver como moitas das fotografías que poderían ser consideradas como de reportaxe as resolve realizando retratos ou escenas estáticas. Como exemplo poderiamos citar as imaxes sobre o traballo no agro (o grupo de persoas co sacho, a familia arando ou as da sega), unha forma de abordar o traballo no agro absolutamente novidosa en Galicia; as referentes aos velorios e as das vodas, nas que ademais das fotos na igrexa, á saída e no banquete, realiza tamén nalgunha ocasión fotos na casa, como na que se vai despedir dunha parente encamada, ou aqueloutra dentro dunha habitación na que se pode ver a forma de pendurar as fotos do teito que era de madeira, e non da parede, que era de pedra; ou as de festividades familiares, como a magnífica imaxe da celebración do bautizo. As únicas imaxes dinámicas da súa obra son algunhas dos bailes no Ghangüi, salón que era o escenario das diversións da zona, onde se celebraban as vodas e os bailes. A fotografía do camareiro facendo café no ano 1955, mostra dende o tipo de cafeteira, o aparato de radio ocupando o papel da televisión na actualidade ata o calendario anunciando as bicicletas Orbea, medio de locomoción importante na época e non precisamente por motivos deportivos. No seu arquivo hai imaxes así mesmo de todas as actividades e acontecementos do momento, como os bailes de entroido, o famoso gaiteiro Avelino Cachafeiro tocando, o cardeal Quiroga Palacios pondo a primeira pedra da igrexa e misando ao aire libre, accidentes na estrada, cazadores do lobo, a inauguración dunha perruquería, aparatos para realizar a permanente ou a chegada do circo, do que fixo uns magníficos retratos que nos recordan polos fondos os retratos de Seydou Keyta.

Dunha forma moi especial debemos reparar nas fotografías referentes á morte, particularmente nas dos velorios que son autenticamente impactantes. Nelas móstrase todo o ritual que seguía á morte, aparecendo o morto no cadaleito acompañado de toda a parafernalia e iconografía que os caracterizaba, coa presencia de mulleres enloitadas acompañadas nalgunha ocasións incluso por algún neno. Especialmente conmovedora resulta a do neno morto de Sanguñedo velado pola súa nai e polos seus irmáns. Comentario á parte merecen aquelas imaxes en que de camiño para o cemiterio a comitiva para e abre a caixa, para que o fotógrafo, con mellor luz que no interior, realice unha fotografía que quede para o recordo. Imaxes que mostran tanto a autoridade e importancia do fotógrafo como a diferente concepción que se tiña da morte nunha sociedade rural como aquela e o papel que xoga a fotografía dentro de todo o seu ritual. O loito aparece tamén reflectido non só a través das mulleres vestidas de negro, senón tamén a través doutros costumes hoxe xa perdidos, pero si vivos naquel momento como o brazalete negro nas gabardinas masculinas.

O retrato da señora encamada que resulta guapa, doce e triste ao mesmo tempo, é un retrato singular que amosa un tratamento peculiar da dor, da traxedia, sen ter nin un ápice da morbosidade que caracteriza á maioría da fotografía que trata estes temas. Sen lugar a dúbidas esta fotografía non só é respectuosa senón que fai pensar, en definitiva unha imaxe que nos queda gravada, como sucede coas boas fotografías.

O distinto xeito de encarar a morte e todo o que a rodea vese claramente no retrato das mozas de Millerada cun pavillón de nichos como fondo, ou o da moza sentada sobre unha tomba, ambientación que elas vían como natural e que hoxe a unha moza de cidade coa mesma idade parécelle absolutamente desacougante.

Ás fotografías dos velorios ademais de ser un elemento para o recordo, el asignáballes tamén o papel de testemuña notarial, debido a que en moitos casos eran enviadas á familia a América, “unha carta coa noticia non era igual de críbel, a foto daba a testemuña da morte para poder empezar a facer as partillas”. Este tipo de imaxes non eran sen embargo as que máis lle gustaba facer, “a min as fotos de mortos non me facían gracia pero o cliente pagábaas e ao nacer un pobre non podía permitirse o luxo de falar de fotografía artística, se non me pagaban non retrataba. Se fose rico dedicaríame a fotografía por deporte e non faría os retratos que fixen”.

A pesar do gran número de cámaras que hoxe en día existen e malia o gran número de fotografías que hai en todas as casas, moito tememos que ningunha comarca quedará neste momento tan claramente reflectida nas súas coordenadas de espacio e lugar como o foi a Terra de Montes neste período por Virxilio Vieitez.

VIXILIO VIEITEZ

Book published in the collection Álbum of Centro de Estudos Fotográficos, in 1998.

 MANUEL SENDÓN 

XOSÉ LUIS SUÁREZ CANAL

 Sometimes people think that the most interesting photographic works are to be found only in the archives of the most important studios of the cities, unjustly forgetting the photographers who work in the villages and whose works can be of the greatest interest. A good example of this is Virxilio Vieitez, who, without any doubt, occupies a prominent place in the history of Galician photography.

This book is the result of the study of Virxilio Vieitez’s work made in the period 1955-65, and in order to do this, all the negatives of the period 1955-62 and most of the ones of the period 1962-65 had to be copied by contact. After that, innumerable studio prints of the negatives considered more important were made, and among them those published here were chosen, always having in mind the fact that there were really interesting pictures left among those not chosen for this occasion. This study was possible thanks to the enthusiasm and the work of Keta Vieitez, who devoted many hours, some of them in not very suitable conditions, to the copying work. She was also the one who printed, with a high quality, the one hundred and fifity prints of this exhibition. The ten murals were printed by José Vázquez Caruncho. We would also like to thank Virxilio Vieitez and his wife Xulia Cendón for their collaboration.

Virxilio Vieitez was born in 1930 in Soutelo de Montes, a village living on farming and emigration on the border between Pontevedra and Ourense. The poor economic condition of his family on the one hand, and on the other the fact that, after a short period in the U.S. his father left for France and never returned, when Virxilio was three months old, made it impossible for him to attend school on a regular basis, since he had to take the cows to graze on pasture. In spite of these circumstances he was fond of reading the books he could have access to, and he remembers that “I studied arithmetic checking the results at the back of the book. The very little formation I had I got it on my own”. At the age of sixteen he went to work in the construction of Santiago airport, with the intention of becoming a mechanic, but the working conditions were bad, “I had to pay 10 pts. from the 12 pts I earned, for the boardinghouse”. When he was eighteen he decided to go to the Pyrinees in Aragón. There he worked in the cableways next to Panticosa and there he had his first contact with the world of photography. He bought a 6×9 format Kodak camera and started taking pictures of the landscape and making portraits of his work fellows, to whom he later sold those pictures, following the method he had learned from another fellow in Labacolla. Life in the Pyrinees was hard, “it was very cold, and there were cobras in the beams of the cabin, althoguh they were harmless”. This situation and the fact of being afraid of the black market business he had got involved in, made him ask for a transfer in the same company to San Feliú de Guixols. Once there he continued to take photographs and, thanks to his friendship with an employee of the local photographer Manetes, he learned to develop pictures in his studio in the evening, after work, ” it was orthochromatic material developed by putting it inside and outside the tank in the red light”.

In 1949 he came to his village on holidays, but instead of coming in a big car like many of the emigrants did, he came with a pretty red bicycle, which made his mother say “he’s the biggest rogue of the village, instead of money he brings a bicycle”. Later he moved to Palamós and started to work as an employee of the photographer Pallí because those life conditions seemed better to him, “with the other job I had to take three showers a day and even so I couldn’t get rid of the gas oil smell, whereas with photography I could work with a tie, far from the dirt”, something very important for him since he was very fond of going out. With Pallí he learned how to use a camera and the laboratory work, but as he wanted to learn more he registered in a photography correspondence course. Since Pallí was the public relations of the studio, the photographic work was made by his employees, and in this way Virxilio was the one who made both street and studio work, some graphic reports for La Vanguardia and even “pornographic pictures for France; we didn’t have problems with those pictures because we always gave some of them to the police and the Guardia Civil”.

The touristic boom of the Costa Brava was starting at the time and Virxilio rode his bicycle to all the nearby beaches “taking pictures of the tourists who wanted them as a souvenir of their holidays, always with the landscape on the background. We also made photographs in a nearby club, not exactly pornographic photos, just something close”. Part of the negatives made in Catalonia were later brought to Galicia by Virxilio, but they were burnt when he was looking for one of them and smoking at the same time.

In 1955, when he was about to settle as an independent photographer in Playa de Aro, he had to come back to Galicia to look after his ill mother. She died a few months later, and he had to do the military service in A Coruña, although he was already married to Xulia Cendón and they had a child. At that time he had already got his customers using the name of Fotografía Perello, his father’s nickname because it sounded similar to Perelló, and that reminded him of Catalonia.

When he finished his military service in 1957, he resumed his work as a photographer, substituting his old Regina for a Rollei,  the camera he made his most interesting work with. In 1958 he bought a new 35 mm. camera, a Voigtlander, since “the medium format involved having to change the roll in the middle of the work”.

At that time there were no other photographers in the village, and those from other villages went there to work: Graña, Foto Paco, Félix Tilve from Pontevedra and Cela from Marín, apart from these, Aurelio from Carballiño worked in Avión and Beariz, until the sixties, when Virxilio got all the customers. It must be mentioned in a special way Ramos, from Codeseda, a very prestigious photographer to whom the people from Soutelo de Montes went to be photographed before Virxilio established himself there. He worked  unceasingly all around the region and Avión, Pedre, Millerada, San Marcos, Sanguiñedo, A Barcia, Cambeses, Borralleiro, Seixido, Edreira, O Barro de Arena were some of the places he regularly visited. However, his activity was basically centered on his village and in Cerdedo, where he went every Sunday morning when people came out of church. At the same time he worked as a   newspaper correspondent for El Pueblo Gallego and for the radio station Voz de Vigo, being his work for the latter more commercial than photographic.

Among his activities, a special place is occupied by the portraits for the identity card, which became compulsory at the beginning of the sixties. He went to all the nearby towns and villages on his motorbike (Lambretta), and this activity brought him a great economic benefit. Weddings were another constant occupation, to the point of making one daily, except Tuesdays, since nobody dared get married on that day. Later, in 1967, I bought a Seat 1500, the car for the brides, a Seat 600 was not a car good enough for them”. Sometimes he had to travel to distant villages, but as time went by,  the number of weddings decreased and in the end they were celebrated only on Thursdays and Saturdays.

In the sixties he began to work with colour, alternating it with black and white, much to his sorrow, because the latter allowed him to frame the photo and work on it later. However the colour photography became the most used and, at the beginning of the seventies half of his work was made in colour. In the middle of the eighties he totally abandoned his photographic activity. At the beginning of the nineties, his daughter Keta established as a photographer in Soutelo de Montes. She had worked occasionally with her father and had learned  the trade from him . She organized the first and only exhibition of her father’s work in the summer of 1997,  an exhibition which showed almost one hundred of his photographs.

Virxilio’s technique, particularly regarding the 6×6 format negatives, is excellent. Regarding the 35 mm. format, the quality is, in general, quite good, except those negatives from a certain period, which have less definition and a bigger grain. This quality is worthier if we take into account the conditions in which the work had to be done. The washing of the copies and the negatives was made in the public fountain until 1964 when the village had the water supply installed. He also worked with the 10×12 format studio camera, making  interior photographs with artificial illumination. He used to print in 7×10 cm. the photos for the wallets, and in 10×15 cm. those to be sent to America. For the photographic reports of weddings, christenings and communions the most frequent format was 13×18 and, sometimes, 15×20 or 18×24,  although he also made bigger prints, 50×60, to be framed or hung.

Virxilio’s work consists mostly of pictures taken outside the studio, due in part to his travels from one village to another,  to the freedom it allowed him, and because he considered it also less monotonous. So, many of his customers, who went to the studio to be photographed, were taken outside, changing the studio backgrounds for the natural vegetal background. All this had as a result unusual pictures, like those of the first holy communion where the little girl appears in the middle of cabbages, despite  the solemnity of the occasion. Another example of this is the photograph of a young girl among cabbages and a background with the most luxurious house of the village, O Chalet, being this portrait one of the few which is not frontal. In other photogrpahs it must be mentioned the harmony between the vegetal background and another vegetal element, a flower bouquet, introduced in the foreground. It is also important his use of the roads as the settting for many of his photographs, stressing the presence of the subject in the centre of the image, giving this way a bigger visual impact caused by the feeling of void generated.

Virxilio was very careful both with the background and the different elements introduced, and with the position of the subject or the relation between them when there were more than one. “It was necessary to include an element so that the subject did not look like a post”. We must not consider strange the inclusion of domestic animals like the goat, the cat or the dog, but what is really surprising is the way he does it, mixing them with the people in their most elegant clothes. For example, that one taken in San Marcos where a girl all dressed up, in high-heel shoes, is holding at the same time a goat and her handbag. It is also remarkable the series of all the family with a dog standing in two legs as if it were just another member of the family, and then the separate picture of the mother and her son with a cat in his lap and a vegetal background which covers the whole photogram. The dog is an element which often contributes to give visual force to the pictures like, for example, the old man with the little girl, and the one of the boy on the road, looking at the camera with a certain suspicion, and the dog with a similar expression, as if it knew that he was also being photographed. Sometimes the role played by animals is played by other elements, women frequently appear holding something in their hands, a bouquet, a sewing case or a wallet.

The importance he gave to the setting, controlled with a great sensibility, never produced sophisticated, gratuituos or overelaborate images. Their force lies in their simplicity, in spite of being a bit unusual, like the one in which three women pose between two flowerpot stands in the middle of the road. In short, it can be said that we are seeing a way of working never seen before in the other archives previously studied.

Attention must be also paid to the number of images which Virxilio constructs introducing as background the huge Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Fords or Cadillacsbrought from America by the emigrants, and which became a very important element of some pictures. For Virxilio these luxurious “haigas” were a novelty and a very attractive luxury to be included in the photographs. It is funny to see, when studying the negatives, the same car in a series of pictures with the only change of the subject before the car. Sometimes there is even a group or a family before the car.

The coaches of La Numancia or La Montañesa, or even his motorcycle, which appears in a number of pictures, have the same importance as the cars mentioned. The change of car models shows us the changes in society. So, we can see the substitution of American cars for European ones, and the irruption of the Seat 1500 and 600.

Although the whole history of Galicia is marked by emigration, it was in the fifities and sixties when this emigration reached its highest point in the century, particularly intense in Terra de Montes, where people used to emigrate to Brazil, Panama, Venezuela and Mexico.

The pictures with the “haiga” reflect clearly the situation caused by emigration. Big American cars could be seen in roads that were just country paths, in villages where the farmers lacked the most elementary machines and the population lacked the most elementary services. It seems surrealist to see one of these “haigas” before a house where running water would come ten years later, where the expected 110 volts were just 80, making long winter nights a totally dull time. Nevertheless, Virxilio’s images were never meant to be critical. The photographer himself did not feel identified with his country, on the contrary, he would have liked not to have

come back, and he considered the economic underdevelopment suffered by Galicia and, particularly by the country villages, as something inevitable.

Many of the pictures were ordered to be sent to the family who lived in America, acquiring this way a notarial value. The one with the boy holding a duck and a Pan American plane had been ordered by his grandmother so that the boy’s parents could see that he was well looked after. Something similar happened with the one of a woman and a radio “which was loved as a member of the family. They had sent her the money to buy it and she wanted the photo to be a proof of the purchase”. The radio is taking the place of the person on the chair, and the fact of putting her hand behind it, shows us both the importance of the radio for the woman and the loneliness she seemed to live in.

When we speak about Virxilio’s photographs, it must be taken into account that they were made in “times with very different economic conditions, one had to have the money for the portrait, the clothes and the shoes”. One simple look at them tells us that they were dressed in their best clothes, being these at times just the reason for the photograph. Sometimes the clothes were sent from America and the picture was sent back as a way of gratitude. Quite eloquent are the photos of the boys wearing trousers too short for their legs or jackets that were too long, where one can see the need they suffered in those years. Virxilio remembers when he had to hide the feet of the person in the picture because, although the clothes were new, the shoes were not. A full detail study of the clothes, the hairstyles, the objects and the poses gives us a lot of visual information about that time.

Whereas in those full-length portraits, the setting is very careful, in those half-length, there is a total simplicity of the scene, and just a white piece of cloth, often with the same L-shaped tear, is the background. Sometimes a bedspread is used instead of the backcloth used by the studios of big cities. These photographs, most of which were taken for the identity card with a 35mm. camera, can be considered as a collective portrait of the people of the region. People belonging to all social groups can be seen: farmers, shopkeepers, priests, civil guards, women, men, old people, young people, children…

All his portraits have some common characteristics apart from the aforementioned constructed setting. The statism, the stiffness, the frontality, the central position of the subject, the direct look at the camera and certain common features in all expressions have the effect of an extraordinary charm, unity and coherence in all his work. Sometimes Virxilio’s photographs remind us of August Sander (Country Girls, Little Girl on the Day of Her First Communion, Country Boy), of Paul Strand’s portraits, and also of those ones made at the time or some time later by Richard Avedon or Diana Arbus. As an example, it could be remarked the resemblance between the half-length photograph of the couple and some photographs by Diana Arbus, or the portrait of a man in an unbalanced composition surrounded by a big white mass, which resembles others by Richard Avedon. Needless to say that Virxilio had not heard of these or other relevant photographers of the time.

Although the setting is extremely important in his photographs, it is not of a lesser importance the great capacity he has to capture the expression of the people photographed, making pictures which have an extraordinary life. By studying the faces of the people in his portraits we find sadness, (a different expression was not to be expected in those life conditions), suspicion, satisfaction sometimes, but in all of them we can find seriousness. This expression, together with the careful choice of clothes, shows us the respect felt at that time for the fact of being photographed. It was an absolutely exceptional and transcendent act, something completely different to these days, “now it is different because there is a camera in every house”.

Special attention must be paid to the children’s photographs. Some are dressed for their holy communion, some dressed on their Sunday best for the picture, resembling many times little men, always staring at the camera, with the same frontality and statism as the adults’ photographs.

His great mastery of portraits allowed him to make only one negative for each one, and  just on a few occasions he made two, “I never wasted a plate”. He had a total control over the subjects and a great capacity to foresee the results, “the customers did not have to say anything, they were interested just in looking well and did not worry at all about the background of the picture. They asked where they had to stand. It was not like nowadays, the one in charge was the photographer, he was like a commissioner for oaths”. An example of the control he had over the setting is the portrait of the reapers holding their scythes. There is another negative of this photo where the pose and expression of the four men is identical to the other negative, they did not move a muscle of their faces in the time between the two pictures, but that time was enough to make the boy of the background disappear. The same can be said of the two photograms of the slaughter of the pig.

Some of his pictures remind us of the cinematographic references of the time, the blond young man on the Chevrolet bonnet makes us think of James Dean, the one with sun glasses on the bonnet and the other leaning against the tree with his jacket in his hand make us think of the neorealism leads, or the realistic Spanish movies of the time. These resemblances are more for the pose and setting than phisical.

Virxilio preferred portraits to photographic reports, “the photographs of weddings, christenings etc were just routine, the photographer was not the director. With portraits things were different”. Nevertheless many of the pictures included in a photographic report are solved as portraits or static scenes. For example the images about the farming work (the group of people holding the hoes, the family ploughing, or those of the reap) are a completely new way of approaching the farming work in Galicia. Those of the wakes and the weddings are other examples. In these works he makes not only the pictures in the church, or at the banquet, but also inside the house (saying goodbye to an ill relative), the one where we can see photos hanging from the wooden ceiling (the walls were made of stone), familiar celebrations like the extraordinary picture of the christening. The only dynamic images of his work were some made at the ballroom Ghangüi, where weddings and dances took place. The photograph of the waiter making coffee in 1955 shows us the type of coffee machine, the radio playing the role that a television set plays now or the calendar with publicity of Orbea bicycles, an important means of transport of the time, and not for sport reasons particularly. In his archive there are also images of all activities and events of the time. Carnival dances, the famous piper Avelino Cachafeiro, the cardinal Quiroga Palacios laying the foundation stone of the church and saying Mass in the open air, road accidents, the opening of a new hairdresser’s

with new machines for perming, the arrival of the circus (with magnificent portraits which remind us, for their background, of those by Seydou Keyta).

Special attention must be paid to the photographs about death, particularly to those of the wakes, which are really impressive. In these, all the ritual after death is shown, the corpse in the coffin surrounded by all the characteristic paraphernalia and iconography, with women dressed in mourning sometimes accompanied even by a child. Specially moving is the photogrpah of the dead boy from Sanguiñedo, surrounded by his mother and brothers. Worth mentioning are those of the funeral procession stopping on their way to the graveyard and opening the coffin so that the photographer could have more light in the open air. These images show both the authority and the importance of the photographer and, at the same time the different conception that the rural society had of death, and the role played by photography in all its ritual. The mourning is also reflected not only through the women in black, but also through other customs lost today, like for example the black armband on the raincoat sleeve.

The portrait of an ill woman in bed, a woman that looks beautiful, sweet and sad at the same time, is a peculiar picture that shows a peculiar treatment of pain, of tragedy, without the slightest morbidity which was characteristic in most of the photographs about this topic. Without any doubt this photo is not only respectful, but it makes us think of an image that will be kept in our minds, as it happens with good photographs.

The different way of approaching the topic of death can be clearly appreciated in the photo of the girls from Millerada, with niches in the background, or the girl sitting on a tomb, a setting considered natural at the time, but something that would be absolutely disgusting for a girl today.

Virxilio gave the photos of the wakes both the value of a keepsake and a notarial value since in many cases they were sent to the family in America, “a letter with the news was not so credible, the photograph was the proof of the death and so the family could start with the division of the inheritance”. These were not, however, his favourite kind of photographs, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of photographing dead people, but they paid for it and, being born poor I couldn’t afford artistic photography. If I wasn’t paid, I didn’t take the picture. If I were rich I would devote to sports photography and I would not make the pictures I made”.

Despite the number of cameras nowadays and the number of photographs existing in every house, we think that no other region will be so clearly reflected in space and time as it was Terra de Montes by Virxilio Vieitez.

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