Helena Ruiz

Interviewed May 27, 2017 for Catalunya Barcelona docuseries.

What’s your name?

My name is Helena Ruiz Nonato.

Where were you born?

I was born in the city of Barcelona.

What’s your hobby, your passion?

I deeply love arts, specially photography.

I’m also passionate about nature.

Do you remember any story that your parents or other acquaintances have told you about the pasts of Spain? I have a list. Life under Franco. The changes after the constitution was signed and the 92’ Olympics.

Well, I have memories of my mother telling m stories about how Spain was during Francoism.

There was a lot of oppression towards women.

You couldn’t have a job or basically do anything without the permission of your husband.

Well, she also told me of several protests she went to in favor of female rights, which during Francoism were very few.

Did anyone tell you about the Olympics?

Regarding the Olympic games, I’ve been told about the changes there were before and after the Olympic games, such as ‘Ciutat Vella’, which used to be a rather dangerous area, better don’t go in there alone.

And specially if you’re young and if you’re a woman because we know how the world is like.

And, well, there was the construction of the ‘Vil·la Olímpica’, the beaches, the city was whitewashed, it washed its face, it dolled up.

I don’t have many memories from that time because I was 2 years old and we were moving from Portugal to Spain.

And well, those are the they’ve told me about.

Regarding the changes that took place in Spain after the constitution, well, they’ve told me much about it because there used to be, for example, death penalty which fortunately now doesn’t exist.

A lot was earned in freedom of speech, something which now seems to be being lost again.

And I think that’s quite ugly, that we’re going backwards.

There was also a movement called ‘destape’ which was a sort of opening, a taking the blindfold off by the Spaniards towards the rest of the world and begin acting freely.

And this, well…

Well, the ‘destape’ takes place mostly in cinema, ¿right?

Especially in cinema, right.

What was it about?

Well, it was…

This ‘destape’ phenomenon?

Suddenly there were bodies which were, if not naked, half naked.

There was an eroticism in cinema that formerly was completely censored.

Especially, after the constitution and after Franco’s death, the feeling of freedom was much bigger, right?

The feeling of freedom in Spain was much bigger in Spain, especially for women, who now didn’t depend on their father or husband to be independent.

Are you in favor of an independent Catalan state?

I’m not in favor of an independent Catalan state.

I wouldn’t be able to.

Not because I have a nationalist feeling towards Spain, it’s that I don’t have it either towards Catalonia.

I feel from the Iberian Peninsula, it’s my land.

If there was a frontier between Catalonia and the rest of Spain , it’s as if there was a physical frontier in my body.

I don’t think it’s a good idea, I’m not in favor of frontiers.

Besides, I can understand that they want to defend a culture, but it doesn’t have to disappear just because it belongs to Spain, just like there are lots of differences between the Andalusian and the Asturian cultures, but they belong to the same country and nobody sees any problem with it.

But, if Catalonia wants to become independent of Spain to get rid of the government in Spain,

I doubt that’s going to improve the political situation here.

Because, deep down, politicians aren’t as different.

What differences do you see between Barcelona and the rest of Spain?

Is night life different in Barcelona? Than it is in the rest of Spain?

Well, I don’t have much of a nightlife, but I do have gone out at night in different parts of Spain and also in Barcelona, of course, because I live here.

And Barcelona has two nights.

One is for those who live here in Barcelona and the other is for tourists.

And, sadly, the one for tourists is eating up the local one.

At least that’s what I see, living in the center of Barcelona.

This is a question about how you would describe the natural landscape of Barcelona, with all its lights and its shadows. No, because many people say that in the touristic videos about Barcelona they’re always showing monuments, to attract tourists and so, but many people say that it is rather because of the landscape, because of the natural situation of the city, than because of all these monuments. What’s your take on this?

I find that question funny.

Barcelona, of course, I live here.

For the tourists, of course it is wonderful.

It’s unique in the world because it has some wonderful architecture, it is unique, but this is quite like the landscape around it, due to it having sea and mountain.

Yes, but it is a made-up land and mountain.

They are artificial beaches, you go to the countryside and…

Let’s see, I go to the countryside.

And it is impossible to forget that you’re just besides Barcelona.

You can feel it, it’s all targeted towards people going to the countryside to spend the Sunday, there are snack bars.

The roads there are, connecting one village with another, are really short, you don’t feel like you’re in the countryside anywhere.

Everywhere there’s a house.

Or you have some village on sight.

I don’t feel like I’m in the countryside when I go to the countryside in Barcelona.

And I don’t feel like I’m in the beach when I go to the Beach in Barcelona.

Because it is artificial, you need to go away, you need to go to the ‘Costa Brava’ to enjoy the beach.

Then, maybe it is more the weather what charms.

Well, come during a heat wave in August and handle the weather.

Yes, well, the weather is quite good to be honest.

You can wear short-sleeved shirts maybe ten months a year.

The next question is maybe a bit more political. It is related with anarchism and anarchist symbols that, apparently, have in this city a greater importance than in the rest of the world. Do you think that Barcelona’s anarchist roots have had some influence in your art?

Do I think that Barcelona’s anarchist roots have had some influence in my art?

Well, I’m not sure if I’ve lived much of anarchism here in Barcelona.

I arrived 7 years ago.

I came from a city in Extremadura where there was an actual anarchist movement at a people’s level.

I’ve gone to assemblies, I’ve celebrated the anniversary of the Republic, but it was there.

Not here.

I have to admit that I have seen it.

I’ve gone to Gracia before it was as touristic as it is now, but

I haven’t felt invited to take part.

And regarding my art…

Yes, I remember going to protests and having taken part in strikes, protests during strikes,

with my camera and having taken lots of pictures.

But my pictures dealt more with denouncig

the vandalism that goes hand in hand with the alleged figure of anarchism.

Because here we all get like we want certain rights and since they don’t listen to us, then I break an atm, I break a store’s window, I sneak into the ‘Corte Inglés’.

That’s not anarchism.

And the pictures I have are sadly about vandalism.

Do you consider them art? Are they art? Aren’t they art?

Are they art?

No, maybe it’s more like… journalism?

Yes, photographic journalism.

Pictures that, of course, I haven’t been able to share publicly because thanks to the gag law it is apparently banned.

Could you explain us a bit more about the gag law?


When the gag law was about to be enacted, I read a lot

about it, which gave me so much frustration that I’d rather not think much about it.

Apparently, in Spain, right now, you can go to jail for making jokes on Twitter that are related to, for example, the Carrero Blanco attack.

Stuff that happened 40 years ago.

You can’t, for example…

After the gag law was enacted, there are no demonstrations in Barcelona.

They no longer do the massed protests

that they used to.

It is forbidden to share on social networks, such as Facebook or Twitter,

pictures of police officers acting on protests.

Even if you can’t see their face or their badge numbers, nor are they being identified.

As people or as workers.

All the pictures I took during that strike in Catalunya square, with the police charges, I’ve had to take them off my Facebook.

Radically changing the topic, since Barcelona has been a very popular touristic destination, let’s say, among foreigners and nowadays tourism is a rather important source of income for the city. But people have sort of… mixed feelings about tourism, so to say. And well, we’d like to know what’s your opinion, how you feel about tourism in Barcelona.

I have lots of mixed feelings regarding tourism in Barcelona.

Lots of them.

I suppose that my case is a bit special, because I work in the hotel industry, so I need that there’s tourism in order to have a decent job, let’s say,

but I also live in the center of Barcelona and every time that I go to the street, I find it hard to find a Catalan person on the street.

I find it hard.

All the…

Most of the people, not all of the of course, but most of the people I come across the street, especially during nighttime,

speak English, speak Hindi, speak Chinese, speak any language but Spanish and even less Catalan.

Of course, Spanish because there are many citizens that are center and south-American here, so they speak Spanish like me. But hearing Catalan during the night, in the center of Barcelona…

It is difficult.

It’s like a mythological animal.

The next question is related to the fact that there’s people who say that there are two Barcelonas, the Barcelona for tourists and the Barcelona for Barcelonese people. Well, you were mentioning before that in the nightlife there are two Barcelonas, and that the touristic Barcelona is taking the place of the local Barcelona nightlife. Does this apply to the rest of life too, not only Barcelona?

Is it applied to the rest of life…

You try to seat to…

I’m sorry.

I mean, repeat the question a bit so that we can know there’s some… That is, are there two Barcelonas?

Are there two Barcelonas, one for tourists and another for Barcelonese people?


There are two Barcelonas.

I see them.

Try having a beer with a friend in a terrace in Ramblas and when they bring you the check you can tell me if that’s fit for locals.

Because it’s a bit of a straight out robbery.

This happens with bars, restaurants, even supermarkets.

Even clothing stores.

It happens everywhere.

They try…

Well, I’m going to skip that.

I don’t want to get into the hotel industry competences.

How would you describe the Gracia neighborhood? Many people say it’s quite different from the rest of Barcelona.

How would I describe the Gracia neighborhood…

The Gracia neighborhood is, right now, going through some change, so it’s a bit difficult to describe.

Well, but…

When I arrived to Barcelona, there was a squatting movement that is now disappearing and Gracia is being filled with immigration.

An immigration that I consider to be quite positive, because it is people that set up their own small businesses, it’s all very ecofriendly, very green, very

very vegan.

But of course, I think that the charm of the Catalan village of Gracia is being lost, that was Gracia’s grace,

that it was a Catalan village.

And now it isn’t.

And the Raval, where you live?

The Raval, which is where I live, is a neighborhood that when I came to spend as a teenager I was scared to get into alone, even in broad daylight

and now I’ve been living there for five years.

So, the Raval is also undergoing a change

which I also think is for the worst.

Well, not worse than twenty years ago, but

it doesn’t have much charm.

It has some areas that are quite artistic.

Around the Raval Rambla, you can find many works of art painted in remainders of abandoned furniture laying on the floor, with the title ‘Art is Trash’.

That’s quite beautiful, but you just need to move a few streets to the south

and you find, I don’t know how to explain it.

A stream of tourists that is constantly crossing and that affects the businesses and we’re back to the same issue as before.

In the Raval, there aren’t many businesses for Barcelonese people.

It’s all focused on tourists.

When we walk down the street, some of the things that we see or smell make us think about things, which is what happens when we walk around the city. When you walk around the streets of Barcelona, could you tell what things that you see or smell or touch make you feel moments of happiness, hatred or sadness?

What feelings cause on me what I see, hear, smell, well, what I feel, when I walk around Barcelona?


It is quite difficult to find a silent place – relatively silent, of course, because there’s no such thing as absolute silence.

It’s very difficult to find it in Barcelona.

There aren’t many, so to say, green spaces, like parks.

That there’s no traffic, that there aren’t buildings too close.

For example, I go through parks such as the Citadel park,

and I don’t feel like I’m in a park.

I can’t hear the birds, I don’t have nice feelings with the things that I hear in Barcelona, there’s too much noise.

A very annoying noise.

Regarding light, for example, since I live close to Paral·lel there’s a beautiful lighting.

Then again, the objects that are illuminated by this light aren’t as beautiful.

Well, regarding the smells I’d rather make no comments, I’d rather Barcelona didn’t lose any tourism.

Because it doesn’t smell very well.

Could you make a word-image free association with the following sentences? Dawn in Barcelona, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Dawn in Barcelona?

What comes to my mind is going out during summer and that it dawns.

It dawns very early during summer here.

The morning in Barcelona.

The morning in Barcelona?

The morning in Barcelona…

Wait, let me stop.

Morning in Barcelona is sort of strange, because it’s like I always want to enjoy it, seat in a terrace, have a coffee, read the newspaper.

But I never manage it.

Well, I do work rather early.

But I like doing that, taking walks.

Just when people have gotten to work, since there’s less traffic.

The stores are still half opened.

I like it.

Well, it’s supposed to be just a word. Let’s see, dusk in Barcelona?


Being in the beach.

Okay, the night in Barcelona.


And late night in Barcelona?

Late night in Barcelona…

I don’t… I’m skipping this one.

Is there any photographer from Barcelona that you know that has influenced you?

Is there any photographer from Barcelona that has influenced me?

I’ve met three great photographers that come to mind now, surely there’s some more.

Here in Barcelona.

One of them, I suppose doesn’t count because he’s German.

The other two, well, now that I think about it one is Galician.

Well, that was Catalan there was only one.

And yes, he’s influenced me, because despite having a photography style that’s quite different from mine,

seeing his pictures and seeing him work, I’ve acquired a certain sensitivity that I’ve seen later reflected in my pictures.

He’s Albert Ruso, in case there’s a doubt.

Do you have any doubts regarding the photography grou AFAL, which was important during the XX century, or Catalonia’s photography organization, which still exists now?


Do you know the photographer Francesc Boix Campos?


Imagine that you need to take a picture, the subtitle of which would be ‘Barcelona’. How would it be?

Can I think a bit about it?

I suppose I’d try to show the attraction of the architecture’s beauty with all that we are an open city, we are an European city.

But that it actually has a second face.

And the thing is…

Besides, I was talking about it with two friends, who are too from central Spain and have lived here for some years.

Who… I got lost. I’ll start over.

I was talking with some friends this morning that Barcelona is quite charming, but once you come here it’s not easy to live here.

I mean, when I used to come on holidays, I felt that Barcelona was calling to me, come live with me.

You need to be a part of me.

And once I came here I stopped having that feeling, I felt abandoned by part of Barcelona.

Then, I’d like that picture to reflect that, actually, all these monuments and all this art in Barcelona

comes through something.

It comes through the weather being really nice, but you have to fight here.

It’s not as easy as living in other places.

At least for me, it was easier living in Extremadura.

With much les I had a better life quality than here.

So, your photography would show…

The touristic charm of Barcelona as if it was a mask

of something that isn’t as pretty.

Is there a photograph that you’ve taken, because you’ve shoot so many photographs, is there a photograph that you’ve taken… Out of the photographs that you’ve taken here in Barcelona, whether it’s of people, a person, buildings, a graffitti, whatever, is there a photograph that or which of the photographs would you say most captures the spirit of Barcelona? Can you describe it?

Well, for example the pictures I took

in the protests.

Maybe it would be something like that.

In Catalunya square, everyone in the street raising the white hands.

With some ‘badbeing state’ signs.

Maybe some of those pictures.


It reflects how I feel about Barcelona, what’s my image of Barcelona.

The thing is that, of course, it’s not a constant discomfort,

you can make your life here after all, you can get used to living here but…

it reflects the fight, yes.

Another question. You’ve spent a lot of time looking througha camera lense and a camera can see into the heart of things. For me, I paint and I draw, and the thing I have noticed about Barcelona is, for me, is the light and the shadow. Everywhere. Layers, light and shadow. I wonder if, when you look, because you spend time looking at people through the lense, do you see that in the spirit of people here in Barcelona? I mean, it’s human nature, but is that somehow reflected in the people?

If it is somehow reflected in people these layers of light and dark in Barcelona?

Is that the question?

Well, of course, yes, you just need to go out to the street and look people in the face, you don’t need to take a photograph of them.

The thing is that I’m very uncomfortable when strangers take pictures of me, I don’t like taking photographs of people.

And, well, in those pictures I took in demonstrations, I generally avoided showing faces.

When I showed them was because those people were doing something very significative.

For example, I have a picture, in a protest, of a girl playing on the clarinet some melody banned by Francoism in the middle of a police charge.