Before the summer Olympics came to town in 1992, Barcelona was a very different place. Before the tide of money and regeneration, the city lived with its back to the sea. Tourists were few and far between, even something of an oddity. The Raval was called ‘El Chino’. It wasn’t a rich or particularly upmarket place, although beauty still survived in unexpected places.
A new book of photographs, ‘A Chupar del Bote’ captures the essence of this pre-92 Barcelona. The collection gives the reader an insight into the inner life of the El Molino club, a legendary theatre and cabaret venue on Paral.lel. Here are the women in sequins, the women dancing in little more than string and pasties, the women putting on their makeup. One particularly beautiful image shows a lumberjack-shirted man staring up at a scantily-clad woman, with rapture on his face. The women are transformed into strange, exotic creatures, exquisitely illuminated while the men blend into the background. The men fix things, sit in their seats and get on with life.
The man who was responsible for these photos was Ximo Berenguer. Berenguer was a photographer who had exclusive access to El Molino between 1973 and 1976. He was the lover of one of the club’s dancers, a Cuban cabaret artist. Things were going well for Berenguer, until he died in a motorcycle accident just a few years after the photos were taken.
Except that he didn’t. Berenguer didn’t take the photos, romance a Cuban dancer or die in a crash. Because Berenguer never existed.
Berenguer was an invention of the Barcelona photographer Joan Fontcuberta, who admitted to having taken the photos himself. Berenguer was an invention of Fontcuberta, who had hoped to make a point about how easy it is to manipulate the media. He was right; there are well over 4,500 links to information about Berenguer on the internet, all of which have stemmed from his invention.
The campaign to create an unknown photographer seemingly worked. Some of the images were shown at PhotoEspaña, and some were sold to the Valencian IVAM museum before Fontcuberta’s big reveal. Would the photos have been less impressive without the tragic backstory of Ximo Berenguer? You decide.
Here are a few highlights.