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Lobismuller. Laia Abril. Ed. RM. 2016

By Daniel Espinoza

This book falls into the category of archive-driven photo documentation, a category that has been flourishing recently thanks to the digitization of historic files and archives.

 

The book tells the story of Manuel Blanco Romasanta who had intersexuality syndrome and lived as a peddler in the northwest of the Iberian peninsula during the XIX century. Apparently he had a simple normal life, except for the fact that he was also a serial killer preying on trusting but impressionable single women and covering his tracks with faked letters sent back to the families of the victims. Additionally, Romasanta had the habit of manufacturing soap from the fat of his victims, earning him the nickname of “Homo do Unto” or Tallow Man. Romasanta was eventually captured in 1852 and sentenced to death for nine murders, claiming during the trial to be a werewolf due to a curse that affected him. The Romasanta case made such an impact in the European press that Queen Isabel II issued him a pardon thanks to the intervention of a French scientist who wanted to study him using hypnosis, thus commuting his sentence to one of life imprisonment.

 

Abril approaches this multi-layered story by mixing photographs, red duo-tones, illustrations and historic inserts, which create the right ambiance to let us fall for the story. The first third of the book sets up the context by using landscapes, letters and village and livestock views, which in turn create a general pastoral mood. The second third takes us to Romasanta’s eyes. The landscapes become darker and denser, night falls and red duo-tones appear, together with the use of a lower point of view as if we were a wolf now. The final third of the book returns Romasanta to his human form, offering a story resolution by portraying newspaper clippings, handwritten texts and different imagery that represents his trial, supposed treatment and imprisonment.

 

However the book doesn’t finish here, it has a colophon. In the last few pages, with the use of illustrations, close-ups and juxtapositions, Abril shows the intersexuality that Romasanta possessed, suggesting that he was not a wolf-man but maybe a wolf-woman, therefore a lobismuller.

 

This book is more than a mere collection of clippings and photographs documenting a case. It is a true visual narrative where Abril’s photographs are the backbone of the story, using the found additions as reinforcements and the caption texts as guidance. The result is a well plotted horror story, with introduction, suspense, climax and resolution, leaving just enough loose ends to keep us wondering.

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