“Photography was the Instagram of José Sellier’s time”

The writer and teacher Jose Maria Paz Gago face, inside the machine of eternitya fictionalized biography of the A Coruña-based French photographer José Sellier, the first to shoot cinematic views in Spain.

The novel tries to do justice to the figure of José Sellier and his status as a pioneer of Spanish cinema.

Yes. It is a figure that is not sufficiently recognized. There are works by researchers from the University of Santiago, and the University of Lyon, who have collected a lot of documentation to prove that he is the first to film cinematographic views in Spain, although it has long been argued that he was Jimeno de Zaragoza . This is commissioned by Marta Sellier, a woman who claims those characters of her family. I wanted to do something that would bring ordinary people closer to the figure of Sellier.

And what’s better than a novel.

Exactly. I tried to involve the public, it has the makings of a detective novel, because there was a moment when his house on San Andrés street was burgled. It is a robbery where they take a lot of money in jewels and cash. It also has its love ingredient.

For a biography to work as a novel, it must have some whimsical overtones. In Sellier’s case, what is it?

He has an exciting life. He lives between Paris, Lyon and A Coruña, where his family settles. He is in touch with the latest technologies of his time. He brings all the progress of the time. Photography was the Instagram of Sellier’s day. I was constantly on the road, closely linked to the A Coruña of the Belle Époque, a city that I am defining these days as a little Paris.

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In addition to Sellier, it claims that very cosmopolitan Belle Époque Coruña.

In that A Coruña there was a very important French and English colony, and a very active bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie with characters such as the Casares Quirogas, Eusebio da Guarda, Molezún, the Picasso family… that period has not been claimed as a whole , but the characters were impressive, and all from Sellier’s circle. The French colony was so important that the consul was the vicomte de Bezaure. Sellier and the Avrillons brought photography and cinematography, but their wives brought fashion. Every season they went to Paris and brought the best. On Calle Real there were both their boutiques, the Parisian fashion of Madame Avrillon, the tailoring and hat shop of Meli Sellier, there was the Louvre, the Palais, the Parisian corsetry, the Parisian dry cleaners. That Coruña must be vindicated, it must be told.

What remnants of the French footprint remain today?

In four generations many things are forgotten. Sellier had been forgotten, until these researchers from the University of Santiago, José Luis Castro de Paz and José María Folgar de la Calle, brought him to light. Much of that cosmopolitan and French feel has been lost. Those families have disappeared, or who today thinks of the Molezún as a French family. The surnames Avrillón have disappeared.

In the same year in which the centenary of Sellier’s death is celebrated, the centenary of the birth of María Casares is celebrated. She is vindicated more in France than here. Does the same thing happen with Sellier?

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It is little recognized, except those professors of the University of Lyon. Sellier was in the circle of the Lumières, so he claimed to be in that circle, but the Lumières themselves are so important that he has been somewhat overshadowed. I want this work to be translated into French and known there. I think it is necessary to claim more here, just like María Casares, who claims more and more here. I don’t know what’s wrong with this city: Emilia Pardo Bazán, Pablo Ruiz Picasso, who was a child, the Casares, the Selliers, the Avrillóns all lived together… there was an impressive creative forge.

What brings Sellier here?

The family comes from the Adalid glassworks, La Coruñesa. Sellier lives in Givors, which is the industrial belt of Lyon, and where there is a tradition of glass factories. I develop the hypothesis that Sellier’s father started making glass plates for photography at that time. I have the intuition that there they were drifting towards photography. It was a very wealthy family here, because they opened one of the first breweries, La Herculina, and got a small real estate empire, with several buildings. They have been fully incorporated into the city and have contributed a lot to the development of the city.

Characters of the time parade through the work, interacting with each other and with Sellier, such as Emilia Pardo Bazán, with whom he is having an affair.

They would all be photographed in Sellier’s studio. When Emilia Pardo Bazán has to send an official photo to her boyfriend, she goes to take her picture in the studio of Luis Sellier, José’s older brother. I say that’s where they meet. They shared literary tastes, they exchanged books, one thing led to another, and they ended up at the Orzán, where I arranged that meeting, because it was one of Sellier’s favorite places. In fact, one of his first albums was Orzán, oleaje.

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None of his films have survived. Is that why your mark on the beginnings of Spanish cinema has been diluted?

He, like the Lumières, has become disenchanted with cinematography. There is a quote by Luis Lumiere that says: “I don’t know what my invention is today, what I know is that it has no future”. He is the first to film images of A Coruña, and the people of A Coruña would go to see him, but when you’ve already seen him three times, then stop going. He didn’t get his job hooking people up. Through some dialogues with his friend Emilia, he discovers what people should be passionate about: fantasy, fiction. Cinema only captured people when he started telling stories.

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