José Samaniego Piñeiro, fashion photographer

Among the photographers we have had in our Auria, probably the most unique biography is that of José Samaniego Piñeiro. Born in Baza (Granada) around 1888, when he was very young he moved to Ourense, to the Castrelo area, where his mother probably came from. The data on his early years are scarce, but they already tell us about his ability to draw, perhaps that was the main reason that he was able to enter as an apprentice in the studio that “the Basques” (the brothers Pablo and Hermógenes Garitaonandia) had at beginning of the 20th century at Calle de Alba 13 (Pacheco also passed through that place and for 100 years it has been the Schreck studio).

Around 1914 as owner or manager (I don’t know the data), he takes charge of the studio and marries Eduarda Conde Vigo, a resident of Celanova. Most of his photographic production in the city is from these years, many of the school photos that I know, since the Marist Brothers were regular customers. And others that were kept with great enthusiasm: Samaniego became the favorite for the couple, even circulating among couples the phrase “you tell me that in front of Samaniego”, as a peculiar way of asking for marriage.

It did not take long for him to find a niche in Ourense society, the result of his good work and his restless spirit, which led him to investigate in other fields. A regular contributor to the national and local press, he covered provincial news in La Región, Blanco y Negro, Eco de Galicia, Galicia Grafica, Vida Gallega, and of course! He is remembered for being the first photographer to collaborate and advertise in the ourensana Magazine Nos. He took charge of the cinematographic exhibitions of the Lyceum, replacing the Italian Barbagelatta (from March to June 1925); A collaborator of the explorers, there is also evidence of his ability to paint, and of his ability to train other professionals in photographic art, such as the proven case of Leopoldo Iglesias López (Photo Villar).

The data that I currently have confirms his presence in Ourense until 1925. In November of that year he would open the Foto Royal studio in A Coruña, where photography and painting were twinned. From that time it is supposed to be a large-scale portrait of Primo de Rivera, which must have been to the liking of the general since in an engraving of it he signed an autograph with this text: “To the brilliant artist José Samaniego, affectionately.. .”. In that study, his last moments in Galicia are supposed (there was later the study of his son José Samaniego Conde, which in more than one publication has been the cause of errors, by confusing father and son). On October 2, 1930, he began his American adventure: Hollywood, Buenos Aires, New York and, with a lapse in Madrid, Cienfuegos (Cuba).

That year, he applied for and obtained a scholarship to perfect cinematographic knowledge in the USA. His skills beyond any doubt are confirmed when shortly after arriving, under the direction of the great Edgar Neville, he is in charge of the artistic direction of the film “El presidio” (adaptation to the Hispanic market of the Oscar-winning “The Big House”) ). After the scholarship period, he decides to stay in America and frequently travels to Havana, where he exhibits his miniature portraits (oil paintings), which are widely accepted, with famous actors, political figures, etc. He returns to Spain (without confirmation, it could have been around 1934), settling in Madrid. Although I have managed to find out little or nothing about that period, presumably he was doing well, to the point that he took his son Eduardo with him. (He did not like anything to be known about his private life and his family relationships, which I will avoid commenting on).

The events of 1936, due to his pacifist spirit, led him to leave Spain and although it was not immediately, we know that in May 1937 he traveled to Cuba, settling in Havana and shortly after in what was known as “Villa Roja”, which it was none other than the city of Cienfuegos. There his artistic talents, despite the fact that he took his movie camera and of course the photos, he decided to direct them to painting, carving out fame in a short time. As a result of it, he received important commissions, mainly portraits of personalities in large format. He continued with his photographic work, although more for fun than as a profession, also devoting time to artistic education. He was in charge of the artistic section of the Ateneo de Cienfuegos and founded and directed a painting academy.

In 1940 he moved his residence to Camagüey, where he opened a painting studio and also taught classes. In 1946, on a trip to Havana, he met his death at only 58 years of age, without my knowing that he ever returned to Spain. However, some of his works, mostly miniatures, returned to Spain and to other Europeans. The palaces of Liria, Medinaceli and Osuna, among others, have (or had) Samaniego’s work in his collection. In Ourense, as far as I know, only photographs in the private albums of our grandparents and a good collection of press photographs.

1925 samaniego Eco de Galicia pic

1925 samaniego echo of galicia hotel rome

José Samaniego Piñeiro, fashion photographer