Lucía Méndez

Lucía Méndez

We don’t know much about Lucía Méndez. And when I say “we”, I don’t just mean the Zaragoza Twins, I mean everybody.

 

I can tell you she was born in the second half of 1901. I can tell you she died on 21/03/37. I can tell you she was 35 years old when she died but I can’t say exactly where. I can tell you (and it’s the only thing we really know about her) that she was probably born in Zaragoza, and that’s what entitles her to be included in this section of “Hijos ilustres de Zaragoza”.

 

Lucía was never really “illustrious”. She was, perhaps, notorious. “Disreputable” is another adjective that springs to mind. Dead set on flaunting and flouting convention, she was the first Spanish woman to take her own photographs. She posed exclusively for her own gratification and portrayed herself in dozens of amateur photographs, of which absolutely none remain except this one, the one that opens this post, the one that mesmerised you, o reader, when you saw it.

 

A friend (and perhaps a lover) of the great Hungarian artist Gregyor Czabo, she discovered photography when she was an adolescent, and exhibited her own self-portraits at the Edinburgh Photography Exhibition, the first of its kind, in 1921. Her shocking poses and brutal glare stunned critics and visitors alike. Flushed with success, she even challenged Man Ray to a “photographical duel”, which he refused with the surrealist counter-offer of an underwater pillow fight. Neither event took place, unfortunately.

 

Méndez moved to Paris some time in the early 30’s. After predictably mingling with dozens of frustrated painters and dissolute poets, she sank into alcoholism and resorted to selling photos of herself in her birthday suit in order to pay for her addiction.

 

“Lo único que tengo es lo que soy”, she would say. “The only thing I have is what I am.”

 

What she was, was herself. The only thing she could sell was what she was, a failed artist, perhaps, nothing more than an amateur photographer, probably auto-besotted (she was convinced that she was the most beautiful woman in the world), and she marketed her product with a pathetic desperation not unlike the great and not-so-great singers and actresses who would follow in her sordid footsteps in later years.

 

There are stories, or rather rumours, that she fell into prostitution. There is no proof of this. In a sense, her art became her prostitution. Lucía Méndez took this photograph of herself minutes before she hung herself, after bribing a friend to dump her body on a train heading towards the French-Spanish border. She was clutching her self-portrait, signed and dated, when border officials discovered the rigid corpse in the luggage compartment.  

 

If YouTube and MySpace had existed in Lucía’s time, she would be a legend today. Now she is forgotten. But she’s there in her last photograph, very much alive and challenging, bitter, proud, indomitable, aware that we are aware that she will live when we are dead.

 

 

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