Guillem Bestard - A Photographic Chronicle

I bought a book the other day. They call it a catalogue. It is a hefty one; more than two hundred pages with paper of a generous weight and quality. Catalogue is perhaps appropriate, as it contains copies of pictures at an exhibition; photographs from a distant time which have been lovingly and professionally retouched. Contemporary technology has come to the aid of the old, from a time when a photographer was as much a technician as he was an artist.

The catalogue is from the exhibition of Guillem Bestard's photographs at Sant Domingo in Pollensa. They span the period 1900 to 1930. To say that they provide an essential record of former times is an understatement; they are priceless treasures that reveal how Majorca and its people once were. Bestard, photographer and artist, was also a chronicler - the most important of his era. Geographically his focus was mainly his home village of Pollensa and neighbouring villages. He went elsewhere in Majorca, but the images of Pollensa - save for obvious landscape differences - are representative of the island in the early twentieth century, an island that was very much of another time.

One thing that comes across from the photos at the exhibition and in the catalogue is the degree to which Bestard was a promoter of Majorca to an international audience. His fame went beyond the island - he was, for example, a contributor to National Geographic - and he assisted in creating the island's own fame. A way in which he achieved this was through his association with the painters who came to Pollensa in those days. They have been credited with having brought Majorca to the world's attention, but Bestard did this as well; he took photos of the painters. And those photos were crafted with the same innate appreciation of composition with which his subjects were blessed.

Anglada Camarasa, Boveri, Cittadini, Mir, Russinyol, Sorolla - they are all there. Bestard knew them all, as he did the journalist Pere Ferrer, who originated the term "Pollensa School" to define their output and styles. The photographs of the painters reveal that Bestard was primarily interested in people, whether they were celebrated or ordinary folk.   

The collection contains its surprises: the Pollensa Jazz group from around 1930; a group of cyclists from some time between 1910 and 1920 (Bestard was a founder member of the Pollensa Cycling Club in 1910, which later simply became known as it is today - Club Pollença); a merry-go-round for the Pollensa Fair in 1915 or thereabouts (the first carousels in Majorca had appeared a few years earlier at Palma's Fira del Ram).

Then there is a photo for which there is no question as to its date - December 1912. It shows gentlemen in suits, a Guardia Civil officer and members of the clergy; it is of a ceremony for the laying of the first stone for the railway in Pollensa. The Ferrocarril del Norte de Mallorca company was to build a railway to branch off from the Inca line, go through Selva and Campanet to Pollensa and Puerto Pollensa and then on to Alcudia. The track was to be laid next to the coast of Pollensa Bay. It was of course never built.

There are oddities, such as the German writer Elsa Seeger and her husband on donkeys. The book states that this was the start of tourism in Pollensa. The year was 1907. The Seegers were tourists. They stayed at the inn that the Bestard family ran. Pere Salas, the Pollensa historian, explains that Elsa was amazed to hear Bach's "Fugue" being played. Guillem Bestard was the musician, and he spoke to the couple in French. Salas says that the Seegers realised they had come across somewhere they hadn't expected. There was far more to Pollensa and Majorca than they had been aware of.

Another oddity is a photo of women in the Plaça Major with mounds of cabbages. This was the cabbage market. It is an image that not only presents a reminder of the rural past, it also highlights the frugal and austere existences of those who lived from the land. They were a contrast to the people who lived the high life. Accordingly, Bestard photographed the Formentor beach and its bathers and the Formentor Hotel. There is one photo with the artists Tito Cittadini and Roberto Ramaugé (who owned La Fortalesa) and the founder of the hotel, Adan Diehl.

And at the very high end of the high life was royalty. Infante Jaime, the second son of Alfonso XIII, was at the Hotel Mar i Cel in Puerto Pollensa in 1929, and there is a photo from 1913 of the Infanta Isabel, daughter of Isabel II. In this photo she looks extremely frumpish, which is perhaps unsurprising. During her visit to Majorca in the summer of that year, she was meant to have been entertained by the dancing figure of Sant Joan Pélos in Felanitx. She was not amused and enquired who the jerk performing for her was (or a word to that effect).

The Bestard exhibition is well worth visiting. It is at the Sant Domingo Convent Church until the ninth of June. As well as photos, the catalogue contains articles in English.

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