Bebe Blanco Agterberg: A mal tiempo, buena cara
Bebe Blanco Agterberg
Bebe Blanco Agterberg (b. 1995) explores the murky waters of historical truth through the lens of post-Francoist Spain, and the far-reaching implications of the Pact of Forgetting (Pacto del Olvido), a political decision brought about by both Leftist and Rightist parties in the wake of the void created by dictator Francisco Franco’s passing in 1975.
The trauma of Franco’s legacy posed an ethical problem in Spain: in transitioning from autocracy to democracy, how does a nation begin its process of healing? And, how does a nation deal with the synthesis of fact and fiction that results from a policy of erasure, the absence of accountability, and the altering of truth? Agterberg’s photographs operate within a gray space between documentary and fiction, constructing a visual narrative in which that which is fabricated overlaps with reality under a unifying cinematic atmosphere.
By combining the historical basis of her project with fabricated and re-enacted scenes, Agterberg reflects upon the notion of the malleability of memory, and how recollections of the past can be subject to manipulation or distortion through time — especially when facts are distorted on a larger societal scale.
‘A mal tiempo, buena cara’ exemplifies a general interest in the intersection between politics, media and society, but the series arose from an intimate, personal source: Agterberg’s mother was born in Spain, before being adopted in 1964. In the process of aiding her mother in discovering more about her past — which included seeking the help of a Dutch TV show, as well as an institution which specialized in reuniting people with their biological relatives — Agterberg came to notice that there were conspicuous gaps in the knowledge accessible through documents and archives from the period of Franco’s rule.
Agterberg’s photographs specifically examine the role that memory plays within this policy of silence. It is said that upwards of 300,000 children were abducted and rehomed by the Francoist regime, the practice of which was so widespread as to be considered state policy. Decades later, those seeking answers to their origins are hindered by the consequences of Spain’s Pact of Forgetting. Fearing the opening up of old wounds and the demands for justice, the nation’s turbulent past was suppressed; facing a difficult history and the damage caused was traded in for “national reconciliation”. While in recent times efforts have been made to recover Spain’s lost past, the ‘damage’ of decades of this taboo had already been done.
“Each element of fiction contains grains of truth, and the cinematic style of Agterberg’s photographs, enhanced by the use of artificial light and a black and white palette, references her interest in the boundaries of reality in film.”
Photographs staged from the memories of people interviewed by Agterberg are interspersed amongst images in the classical documentary style, although every image contains an element of ambiguity, deliberately concealing any straightforward interpretation of what is being seen. Each element of fiction contains grains of truth, and the cinematic style of Agterberg’s photographs, enhanced by the use of artificial light and a black and white palette, references her interest in the boundaries of reality in film.
She describes the project as “based on a true story” — an oft-used line in the opening sequences of films, many of which willingly embellish the truth for dramatic effect. These embellishments, however, always contain truths in themselves — of the director’s intentions, or of the historical context in which it is made. “In my work I take on the role of a director that investigates what truth means in modern times,” Agterberg writes. “My memory exists out of fragments, parts and people that are somehow connected, but are not connected in a linear line. I use this fragmentation as a form to narrate my work.”
All photographs courtesy of the artist. Bebe Blanco Agterberg (1995) is a visual storyteller based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Recently, Agterberg was nominated by Void (an independant publishing house and alternative expo space in Athens) as one of five talents in 2021 joining Futures, a Europe based photography platform that brings together the resources and talents of 14 cultural institutions.