Photographer’s fanciful scenes from Catalan independence

Doctored images in ‘The Book of Marvels’ poke fun at customary triumphalism

 

The results of the Eurovision song contest are up on a screen and Catalonia, with 290 points, is the clear winner. Spain, with only two points, is in last place.

It’s the kind of scene that a Catalan nationalist might conjure up in his or her wildest dreams: not only imagining their region as an independent entity, but one that triumphs on the international stage, leaving Spain flailing in its wake.

However now such fantasies have been rendered all the more real by journalist and photomontage expert Víctor Colomer, who has gathered in a book a collection of faux scenarios that visualise an independent Catalonia.

Some of the cleverly assembled images are so convincing they look almost plausible, such as Catalan premier Artur Mas addressing the United Nations or US president Barack Obama solemnly reviewing the Catalan police force.

Others are more fanciful, such as an astronaut standing on the moon with the Catalan flag instead of the Stars and Stripes. Then there is the truly outlandish, such as a revisionist version of the Last Supper, with Christ holding up a piece of bread pasted with crushed tomato – a traditional Catalan dish known as pa amb tomàquet – before his awestruck disciples. “Jesus was Catalan,” says the caption.

“The aim is to poke fun, in an affectionate way, at Catalan triumphalism,” says Colomer, who recently retired after a three-decade career, as he flicks through his book in a café in central Barcelona. “In Catalan we have a word, cofoïsme, which is that pride, that self-satisfaction that we have – the book is making fun of all this, having a laugh at it, but with affection.”

 

‘The Book of Marvels’

El Llibre de les Meravelles (or “The Book of Marvels”) has been published just as the attention of Spain, and much of Europe, is focused on Catalonia ahead of its regional election on September 27th. Nationalists, led by Mas, are using the vote as a plebiscite on independence – if his electoral coalition of separatist politicians and grass roots candidates, Junts pel Sí (or “Together for Yes”), wins a majority of seats in the Catalan parliament, it plans to begin the process of secession, to be completed by 2017.

With the central government vowing to block the independence drive, Spain is facing one of its deepest political crises of the democratic era. Earlier this month, defence minister Pedro Morenés said that the Spanish army would not have to intervene in the northeastern region, “if everyone carries out their duty”. It was a comment which, whether by design or not, both reflected and added to the drama.

“There’s a lot of tension right now, more in the political sphere than among ordinary people,” says Colomer, who feels that humour has been absent on both sides of the debate.

“If my book can take the sting out of the drama of this independence issue and put a bit of humour into something which makes us all so het up, then that’s a good thing.”

Colomer is stridently pro-independence and plans to vote either for Junts pel Sí or CUP, a leftist pro-independence party.

“The rest of Spain is looking at all this with the typical Spanish attitude,” he says. “It’s that of the chauvinist man who says to his wife who wants to leave him: ‘You’re not going anywhere! You’re staying right here’.”

 

Deliberately mischievous

In one deliberately mischievous montage in his book, North Korean leader Kim Jong- un is shown holding up a copy of the Spanish constitution and extolling its virtues – a clear reference to the central government, which has based its rigid opposition to Catalan independence purely on the letter of the law.

 

Yet, as many of the images from his book suggest, Colomer is more than willing to criticise his own camp. He is particularly biting about what he calls the “patriotic paraphernalia” surrounding the independence cause, much of which has been in full swing throughout the election campaign.

“When I hear the Catalan anthem being played so loud, in such a militaristic way, and see so many flags, so much triumphalism and so much ‘fatherland’, it gives me the creeps,” he says.

By his own admission, secessionists’ technical arguments, which focus on how Catalonia is being short-changed by Madrid to the tune of €16 billion a year, or how the region has suffered historically as part of the Spanish state, are not the ones that convince him.

“If you talk to a [Catalan] economist, he’ll tell you that Catalonia is an extremely profitable country and that when it’s independent, it’ll be a great business and we’ll all be richer,” he says. “And if you talk to another economist with the same qualifications, who’s studied at Harvard, say, but who is from Madrid, Seville, Bilbao or A Coruña, he’ll tell you the complete opposite – there are rational arguments – but they’re all up for debate, depending on whether you’re talking to people here or [in the rest of Spain].”

He adds: “So why am I so decidedly pro-independence? Because when I imagine having an independent country, that we could govern ourselves, it gives me goose bumps. For that reason alone.”

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