|Evita--An Intimate Portrait of Eva Perón|
|TOMÁS DE ELÍA and JUAN PABLO QUEIROZ (eds.): London, Thames and Hudson, 1997.
With the end of the blitz of conflicting visual images of Evita--"the woman with the whip," "the lady of hope," and the montonera--and Peronism as portrayed in the films of Alan Parker (1996) and Juan Carlos Desanzo (1996), the time has come for photo albums. Several such books have appeared over the last two years, but Tomás de Elía and Juan Pablo Queiroz's offering is perhaps the most impressive so far. Although the book's introduction, written by Naomi Ramallo, a history professor at the University of Buenos Aires, does not shed any new light on Eva Perón's character or actions, it commendably emphasizes the different interpretations--academic, journalistic, and political--of the image of one of the most charismatic women leaders of the twentieth century. This is not, strictly speaking, a biography, although it serves that purpose as accompanying text for the story told by the pictures; throughout the book, the photo captions add supplementary information about the life of Eva Duarte de Perón.
After the "Madonnification" of Evita, the photographs in this book are a real pleasure. The diverse images of Evita that have accumulated over the last decades have left us with little notion of who Evita "really" was, and this book's great achievement is that it conveys the illusion of providing a direct and candid approach to her as a person, through an impressive array of high-quality photographic prints.
Many of the photos that appear here have never been published before, and the editors deserve credit for their admirable diligence in tracking down photographs in archives and private collections in different countries. The book includes images by Alfred Eisenstadt, Giselle Freund and Cornell Capa, reproductions of magazine covers from the 1930s and 1940s, commemorative stamps, seals and mementos, as well as pictures of Evita's extraordinary Dior gowns, and newly-revealed family photos donated by her surviving sisters.
The first photographs in the book portray Eva María Duarte's childhood in the province of Buenos Aires. They show her as a skinny little girl playing in the streets of Los Toldos or Junín, graduating from elementary school, imitating movie stars, and strolling with her sisters and a couple of friends on a Sunday afternoon.
Next comes the beginning of her artistic career in the big city of Buenos Aires, during the second half of the 1930s, and public recognition: her image on the cover of popular movie and entertainment magazines, her meeting with Colonel Juan Perón, her public appearances as the president's wife following his victory in the February 1946 elections, and the move to the presidential palace in the middle of that year. Many of the photos of Eva together with Perón are relatively intimate, and illuminate the human side of their relationship, capturing informal scenes or gestures at official ceremonies during the election campaign or in the presidential residence.
Photos of Evita's well-publicized trip to Europe in mid-1947 show the Argentinian First Lady standing next to the Spanish dictator, Francisco Franco, on the balcony of the royal palace, posing at the Vatican, and dancing with the Swiss Foreign Minister. The coverage of her years of peak activity and political influence focuses, of course, on Eva's encounters with workers and union leaders. The book concludes with a series of images of her decline and death, and of the masses mourning the loss of "the spiritual leader of the nation." The ceremonies surrounding her death reveal the Peronist regime's efforts to consolidate an image useful for its own legitimization.
Not only does this wealth of pictures add to the general outline of the private and public lives of the second most important figure in Perón's Argentina, but it also provides great insight into the painstaking process of building the visual image first of a movie and radio star, and later of the political figure that she became, faithfully recording the changes in hairstyle and dress that Evita adopted at various stages of her short life, and for the benefit of different audiences.
Raanan Rein Tel Aviv University
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