SYMPOSIUM PARTICIPANT

Marta López Beriso

Ortega-Marañon Foundation and University of San Diego, Spain

Alejandrina Alba (1837-1910): From ‘Great Whore’ to Photographer Between Two Husbands

Alejandrina ALBA From Great Whore to Photrographer btw Two Husbands
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Alejandrina Alba was a photographer active in Madrid (Spain) between 1862 and 1910. From humble origins, she was nevertheless able to radically change her situation when she married the famous city photographer José Martínez Sánchez, for whom she had posed before. After failing to poison him, and harshly criticized by friends of her husband as ‘the great whore’, she surprisingly became one more of the team in her husband’s photographic ‘gabinete’. When he later moved from Madrid to Valencia, abandoning the studio, Alejandrina became the head of this renowned business at the Puerta del Sol 4, making her the first woman in Spain to declare herself officially, in 1876, once a widow and to the authorities, a photographer, under the discreet name of ‘A. Alba’, in an attempt to hide her real gender. Shortly after, in 1880, she married again, this time to a younger photographer, Juan Astray, who took over and ran the studio until they decided to close it in 1910. As often happens, there are almost no surviving photographs that can be firmly attributed to her. However, the Puerta del Sol studio was, from beginning to end, a family business in which all members participated as one, and it is thus impossible to be sure of who did exactly what. Therefore, the studio’s entire production should be understood as resulting from a collaborative authorship in which Alba must be included, enlarging the number of women photographers who, at the time, in Madrid too, worked in association with their husbands or relatives, being a relevant if not substantial part of the family businesses.

The investigation of her contribution to the History of Photography is primarily based on the impressively large number of photographs attributed to Martínez Sánchez, part of the painter Castellano’s Collection housed at the Spanish National Library.