I had been absent from my native Spain for twenty years when I found my old primer "Catón" in Madrid, in a flea market called "Rastro". Rastro translates as "clue". It also translates as junkyard. This booklet for learning to read and write was published and nationally distributed during Franco´s dictatorship. It was printed on the same thin paper as was used for popular comics, and was bound by the same two thin staples. Its appearance matched what it was: a propaganda pamphlet concocted by the side that had won the 1936-39 civil war.
Old toys, comics, and school books usually evoke the bittersweet taste inherent in all things past. A self-imposed exile, as in my case, would be an added condiment. I was born in the aftermath of the Spanish civil war and left for Paris as soon as I was of passport-bearing age. I stopped using my mother tongue, one I identified less with my mother, but more with her imprisonment. The sight of the old primer evoked neither bittersweet melancholia nor dread. It surprised and intrigued me. The size, boldness and variations of the type face and the incongruous diversity of the illustrations gave the Catón the aura of an old surrealist work of art. The surrealist banner of the fortuitous encounter of an umbrella and a sewing machine on a disecting table, finds a worthy replica in the Catón, where an umbrella stand and a stork share the same page with an eagle crowned by a saintly halo.
The Caton´s introduction exhorts the teacher to make each lesson a "natural and expressive experience that would speak both to the brain and the hearts of the disciples". The first lesson puts in the child´s mouth three auto-affirmations: "Spain is my Country, I am Spanish, I love Spain". Some lessons contain matching syllables, as for mirror and clown (espejo, payaso). The first syllable in España matches espejo and the second syllable matches the first in payaso. The child reader´s eye is captured by the drawing of "a clown looking at himself in a tall mirror". The same syllables merged an infantile world with a somber one.
The twenty oil paintings in the original "Catón" series each measure 60 by70 inches. I photographed them for the catalogue of an exhibit of paintings in Madrid. When I compared the photographs to the originals, the large size and look of originality of the paintings seemed misplaced. The copy had more to do with the subject matter.
In 1999 the Caton photographs in lieu of the paintings, were exhibited in Madrid at Galería Moriarti. Subsequently, the exhibit was chosen to be part of the "Salon de los 16," an exhibit and book of sixteen international exhibits considered to be the most significant in Spain that year. The exhibit took place in Madrid at the Palacio Velazquez, under the auspices of Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.
There are 20 photographs in the Caton series of C color prints. Each photograph, in an edition of 12, measures 47 by 54 inches.