The last editing marathon that took place in Buenos Aires was celebrated on July 20th and it was called Memorial Edit-a-thon. It took place in what used to be a "black site" (clandestine detention facility) during the last military dictatorship in Argentina. Now the Space for Memory and Human Rights works in that facility. Both this organization and Wikimedia Argentina organized the event, which had an amazing turnout and brought together people from very different backgrounds. Among the attendees was Mónica Hasenberg, a photographer that dedicated most of her career to political activism. She owns a photographic archive of 45,000 photographs, that depict many moments of Human Right protests in Argentina. After the event, the staff of WM-AR spoke with her about the meaning of registering moments, preserve and share them with the community.
The story behind the Hasenberg-Quaretti Archive
When did you start to keep organized the work you and your husband were doing as photographers?
My husband and I worked for different clients, as contractors, but always keeping the rights of the images for ourselves. Back then, archives didn't have the value they are given today. We had a lot of negative stripes kept in envelopes, with only the title of the article they were done for and no further sorting code. Drawers filled with negative stripes. I don't remember when was it that I started to organize the archive. We moved a lot back then and we lost a lot of material. I had some training in archives and one day I realized the value of the pictures we had. I bought folders and archiving material and set to work. This was by the end of the military dictatorship, in the first semester of 1983. During the late 70s, the only job my husband had was for Familia Cristiana, a magazine produced by nuns who practiced Liberation Theology. This group was very strongly related to Madres de Plaza de Mayo. Those were difficult years, since we couldn't go around saying we worked for that magazine. I call those years the "internal exile", we confined ourselves to our home and didn't join any working union. If you look into the archive, there are no photos of the repression that was going on in the streets: we had to protect ourselves and couldn't expose ourselves like that. We had a low profile. And for many, many years, even long after the dictatorship was over, I didn't show the pictures to anybody.
The return of a democratic government, by the end of 1983, found Mónica and her husband working for Movimiento Todos por la Patria, a political movement that published a magazine called "Entre Todos". Democracy was, however, still very weak. In 1989 the Movement Mónica and her husband worked for attacked the military barracks of La Tablada, something completely unexpected by anyone, even the couple. "I panicked. We had pictures of everyone involved in the attack, and we didn't know what was going to happen. The photos we had were dangerous for the activists. We decided to throw away some of that, a friend took a box full of photos, and we lived a moment of horrible fear for some months", she recounts. The efforts of the couple was still divided between hiding the work and registering and classifying the photos. Today the Hasenberg-Quaretti Archive (as it was later called) has many folders, that sometimes refer to clients (Work Unions, Ministry of Education, etc) and others refer to different topics (Education, Work, Immigrants, Churches, etc).
Yours and your husband's work was always linked to political activism. What does it mean to work for a social cause from a photographer's point of view?
In the 80s, photography was very expensive. Nowadays, having seen the September 11 attacks while they were taking place is characteristic of our era. When we worked, it was very expensive. We only did black and white prints. Printing itself was very expensive. That is why 90% of our archive has never been printed before. Not long ago, I digitalized a photo of a protest that I remember attending as an activist, not to take photos. It was at 10 am at the Court Building. We were demanding the appearance of Paula Logares, one of the first recovered grandchildren. She was, back then, under tutelage of dictators. I don't remember what day it was, or event he year, but my kids were young (I had them on '78 and '81). One of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, Perla Wasserman, grabbed my arm and said "What are you doing here? Get out, it's dangerous!", and she draw me out. I didn't remember taking pictures, but I have four images of that day.
It was a hard time to keep a photographic archive, not only because of high costs, but specially because of the dangers it involved. This is how Mónica makes a difference between taking part in a protest as an activist and doing so as a photographer: in her memory, she is sometimes one and other times, the other, but her archive has surprised her in this since more than once.
What is the meaning of a photographic archive
There's great value in preserving a moment for posterity.
Yes. Photography is a vice for me. I think I have gained a deep understanding of what an archive is. When I find pictures that I didn't even remember having shot, the desire to digitalize this work is even bigger, because I can tell many stories are still hidden in there. There are Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, whose names I don't know, but they are all portrayed in the archive. This amazing thing happened to me recently. A year ago I found out a former classmate of mine had been a victim of the military dictatorship and is still missing today. That is why, in September 2012 I organized a showing about her. I couldn't find the family to make them part. One of those days, another classmate of ours was at home looking at the photos I had. Suddenly, she found the mother of this missing woman. She was a Mother of Plaza de Mayo and I took a picture of her during a protest. We found her because of the archive. This was very moving for me. That is why Human Rights is a personal cause for me. I have professional photos of the most varied topics. But my archive is known for Human Rights, it is very strongly related to my role as an activist. These photos were hidden for many years.
We could agree that archives are alive, and they tell a story.
Yes, of course. Every society has to learn from its history, and from Humanity as a whole. Nothing is alien. What happens to us has happened to othes or could happen in the future. The fact that today we are able to speak about gender violence in Argentina, that we have a law that protects women in this respect, is the result of a learning process. How do we learn? Taking History into account. Photography, and any other means of registering, is the first and foremost learning tool. Photos in the '80s were not digitally edited. A photo of someone repressing is not lying: it's what it is. We have a history that we need to spread, so it does not ever happen again.
Today technologies also allow us to build knowledge societies, where wisdom is spread.
I completely agree with those tools. Causing certain information to be built from different viewpoints is very meaningful. In social psychology, Pichón-Rivière argues that each person contributes a different viewpoint from their own subjectivity on the same topic. The call for the Memorial Edit-a-thon was very interesting for me, because it allows to socialize the construction of a collective narrative, in a shared event.
Mónica became first interested in Wikipedia, how it works and how it is written, after turning to the Free Encyclopedia to provide information about the photos she shared on Facebook. It was her activism for Human Rights that brought her to the Memorial Edit-a-thon. We in Wikimedia Argentina are sharing the story of her vast photographic archive with hopes of finding funds to digitalize her negatives. Mónica stated that she is more than willing to upload all the photos she has on Wikimedia Commons, so they can be used and shared in any intellectual production. We hope that this new collaborator joins our projects and keeps walking by our side in this path.