Settlers in San Rafael. Mendoza. 1911.


Collection of six vintage photographic works. Measurements: 14 x 20 cm. Albumen paper copies in sepia tone and with its four rounded corners. All the works, in good condition, are mounted on a secondary support -17 x 23 cm-, somewhat worn on the margins, with an indication of authorship of the images stamped by means of a dry stamp: "Juan Pí. San Rafael".


Jean (Juan) Pi was born in the city of Geneva (Switzerland) in 1875 into a wealthy family of Catalan origin. Due to family business, that only son traveled to Argentina around the year 1896 to supervise an export and decided to settle in our country. Finally in 1903 he settled in the small town of San Rafael, which was then in full growth thanks to the efforts of European immigrants, especially French.


It is not known when and who started Jun Pi in the photographic field, but it is known that he practiced this trade for a certain time in the capital of the republic -at that time saturated with camera professionals- although without an established studio. He had a knack for drawing and this artistic inclination influenced the quality of his works. Years later and in his correspondence with the editor Alejandro del Conte - director of the South American Photographic Mail -, he confessed to having spent a lot of money learning based on trial and error, helped by the manual "La pratique en photographie avec le procedé au gelatino- bromure d'argent" by renowned French author Frédéric Dillaye (1848-1905)


His beginnings in that community in the south of Mendoza were really difficult, especially due to the small population that did not allow him to subsist only with the income of this profession, for which he was forced to also carry out other tasks, having to overcome two serious disorders caused by due to a characteristic meteorological phenomenon of the Cuyo region such as the fall of hail, which on two occasions destroyed its luminous glass galleries.


When towards the 1980s the historical recovery of photography advanced in the country, his researchers rescued in a first stage some few pioneers from the interior, who transcended due to the exceptional quality of his works. One of them was precisely Juan Pi, discovered and analyzed by Luis Priamo in his book "Juan Pi. Photographs 1903/1933" (Fundación Antorchas, 1994).


Although social portraiture was the most relevant commercial field, in the difficult context of small San Rafael, Juan Pi turned to the production of photographic records on the agricultural world of the region, willing to generate other income; in the same way he did it with an extensive collection of photographic postcards edited with his images: a feat. We must understand that in those years, installed more than 200 kilometers from the capital of Mendoza and almost a thousand from Buenos Aires, he was complicated by the provision of inputs, modern technologies and other issues of the trade.


Precisely this valuable collection of six rural views, is part of that strategy in search of new local clients and, in this case, focuses on the activity of an important winery in the Atuel region, a wine-producing area by nature.




01) WINERY: Plein air record of the partial appearance of an important winery, where the central motif of the shot is four rows of large barrels for bottling wines. A dozen workers -owners, foremen and laborers- pose for Pi's camera in different attitudes. In the background part of the winery plant facilities can be seen.


02) MEETING OF FRIENDS: During the month of May of the year 1911 Juan Pi documented a joyful meeting of friends. Wearing various hats and riding boots, these transplanted gringos pose in a semicircle in front of the photographic equipment, on the far right is a carriage of the tilburi type; the fourth from the left in a dark suit and a stick as a staff seems to be Juan Pi himself. On the lower edge of the cardboard there is a legend written by hand with black iron gall ink and in French: "Rincón de l'Atuel".


03) PEONS AND PATRONS: In this illustrative rural scene, a group of laborers and the owners of the San Rafael farm are attentive in front of the objective. The high storage shed, a series of wine barrels and even a cart for transporting grapes pulled by three mules with their driver stand out. For the photograph, two gentlemen pose mounted on a single horse. The row of tall poplars tells us about the protection of crops in a difficult climate.


04) THE TRIUMPH OF WORK: Another scene from that important winery in Rincón del Atuel and where the protagonists are the rows of wooden barrels and even a set of large oak vats for the production of the appreciated Mendoza wine. Attention is drawn to the right, the small mangrullo or watchtower from where a transmission chain works linked to a well meters below.


05) PICNIC IN THE MOUNTAIN: The same cheerful group of friends - already described in photograph N° 2 - meet at a lively country lunch where there is no shortage of the classic wicker basket for food, a couple of demijohns of good wine and even the hunter displaying his rifle. The mountain gives a natural frame to the scene. The title is repeated on the upper edge; "Au Rincon de l'Atuel" and on the lower edge of the secondary support are described, in black iron gall ink and somewhat illegibly, the names of those who participated in that event in 1911, where the surnames Duplessy, Lorraine, Balby and Berberot It is interesting to point out that, between the photograph and these descriptions, one of the participants had already died as his name appears next to a cross.


06) STEAM MACHINE: One of the great merits of old photography is the fact that it visually rescues situations or objects from the past that have already disappeared. In this case, and in the foreground, we can appreciate the excellent record of a steam engine -probably a Ruston brand (England) with four wheels and a tall chimney- in full operation and attended by its operators. Also noteworthy is the work of two men cutting thick logs with a double-handled saw, the necessary fuel for its operation.


This is an exceptional collection of vintage works, made around the 1910s by the great Swiss photographer Juan Pi, about a wine-producing establishment and a day off in Rincón del Atuel (Department of San Rafael) in the province of Mendoza. They are records of production and work, and of some relaxing day, probably obtained at the request of a principal. Undoubtedly, a set of interest, very rare in the market with the signature of its author.


Abel Alexander

President of the Ibero-American Society for the History of Photography


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