The photographer who captured the Transition: "Today's politicians must learn from that reconciliation"

The photojournalist Gustavo Catalan (Madrid, 1951) for years put an image to the Spanish transition. In black and white. From the funeral of Francisco Franco to the investiture of Enrique Tierno Galván as mayor of Madrid, no relevant episode escaped its objective.

All those moments he compiles now in his book A look back (Almud, 2021), in which he selects 80 photographs that his camera recorded between 1975-1982 and that they serve as a reminder of how much it cost Spain to give itself democracy.

It is a graphic “treasure” – that is how he defines it – of more than 100 pages in which some images that are recorded in the retina of an entire generation are nested: the return of Rafael Alberti of his exile in Rome, the investiture of Felipe de Borbón like prince of Asturias or the walks of Adolfo Suarez Y Felipe Gonzalez through the halls of Congress. Without omitting the naked torso of Victoria Vera, “muse of democracy”.

“Those of us who lived through that stage had great fortune: they were moments of change, of inner turmoil, of vitality, which after these decades have diminished to make our country a more individualistic and disaffected place of politics”, reflects Catalán, who He admits now to feel a “happy nostalgia” for that time.

-Why your interest in adopting a “look back” now?

-It is a good moment because we are in a critical situation, which is different from the Transition, but which is also one of vertigo and tension. I think that was a triumph for democracy and citizens that should now be repeated. Unite and work for the country together.

-The values ​​that made the Transition possible are in disuse.

-Yes, that’s why you have to vindicate that situation. The parties are very tense and there is no dialogue. They have to come to an agreement again because we have to do many things. Among others, change what needs to be changed in the Constitution. Politicians are not paying attention to the general feeling of the people.

-Is there a dissonance between what the citizens ask for and what the politicians are asking for?

The Spanish are to something else, especially at this time. What worries us the most is the Covid and this has not been discussed in the Madrid elections. The lines of education have been exceeded, above all. You have to stop to meditate, to think and stop being so banging.

-What feelings did you feel when you compiled these images?

-Among others, nostalgia. Each photo has its own story behind it and is a world. It was not easy to choose between so many photos. All the characters of the Transition and all the serious and important events pass through the book. For that I needed to be on the site and achieve a good image that reflected the tension, which was also there.

-If you had to choose a photo for its meaning, what would it be?

-There is one that I like above all the others: Adolfo Suárez setting fire to Felipe González in the darkness of the Hall of Lost Steps, where they met more than once.

-How did you do it?

– I saw that the two left the plenary session and I left behind them. I captured the moment in which they shared a cigarette, conciliatory, cordial, because they were going to discuss a specific point of what was being debated in the Hemicycle.

-What could the current political class learn from the Transition?

-How much more difficult it was to reconcile on that occasion. Things are much better in the country now, despite everything we are going through, and they must learn from the past. I would invite you to reflect on how difficult that was and how it was possible. They all gave in, there was the key.


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