A fascinating journey: 10 years of manhole cover photography from our community

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This year, 2024, marks 10 years of manhole cover photography. A fascinating journey that our Wikimedian community undertook with the mission to photograph and document manhole covers from different parts of the world. The first of these manhole covers was captured by our member Montserrat Sáez on 13 April 2014. “It is neither pretty nor ugly, it is quite ‘normal’ for its time; however, the anagram (engraved on the lid, and belonging to the National Institute of Colonisation -INC-) puzzled us, until we found out what it meant and understood the place where it is located and its history. If it hadn’t been for that, we wouldn’t have continued the task”, says Montse, together with Luis Ulzurrun.

Manhole covers are robust, designed to protect manholes, commonly found in sewer and utility networks. For our community, these manhole covers have become the focus of a passionate documentation effort that has been ongoing for a decade, recording their unique locations and characteristics. Find out more in the following Wikimedia Commons category.

A decade of discovery and documentation

Documenting a manhole cover has become an essential part of the community’s trips and outings. Over the years, some members have developed an affinity for certain covers that they consider particularly representative. Mentxu Ramilo, for example, found a 1925 manhole cover in Vitoria-Gasteiz that she found fascinating. “I let myself be infected by the Wikimedian spirit and passions, and by everything that forms part of the graphic heritage and deserves to be documented,” explains Mentxu.

Adrián Estévez remembers with special affection a manhole cover in Gandesa, belonging to the Dirección General de Regiones Devastadas y Reparaciones (General Directorate of Devastated Regions and Reparations). When he photographed it, he could not help but think of the devastating effects of the Battle of the Ebro on the town.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tapa_de_rexistro_de_Regiones_Devastadas_en_Gandesa.jpg

Adrián takes the preparation of his photos very seriously, cleaning the lids and looking for the best position to avoid shadows or the appearance of his feet in the image. Another of his outstanding photos is a manhole cover in excellent condition near the Estrella Galicia factory in A Coruña.

Miguel Alán tells us the story of the oldest manhole cover in Valladolid, dating from 1901. On the other hand, Florencia Claes has a special predilection for an 1851 cover located in the Prado Museum.

Florencia loves to share her findings with the community and play a guessing game about the location of the covers, which provides her with additional motivation to continue documenting.

Ten years of hidden art in cities

The motivation behind photographing manhole covers may seem peculiar to some, but for a group of Wikimedians, it is a fascinating way to document and preserve unique aspects of our urban environment.

Mentxu, a graphic documentation enthusiast, explains that her interest stems from the influence of other Wikimedians. In addition, she is also dedicated to photographing shop signs, and any element that deserves to be documented captures her attention. This dedication to capturing and sharing seemingly mundane details reflects a deep respect for the graphic heritage and visual history of our cities.

Adrian adds a historical perspective to this practice. For him, manhole covers are more than just manhole covers; they are historical artefacts that tell stories. Each cover carries with it information about when it was made, for what purpose, by whom and where. This ability of manhole covers to tell stories through time makes them objects of interest and value to those seeking to better understand urban and industrial development.

Miguel Alan, on the other hand, found in manhole covers an excuse to collect photographs and join a community with similar interests. Inspired by others who photograph silos, road markers or Osborne bulls, he decided that manhole covers would be his niche. His main motivation is to complete a specific category on Wikimedia Commons: “Category:Manhole covers by year”. Despite the difficulties of travelling and finding old covers, he has dedicated himself to this mission, managing to capture many on his holidays.

Florencia, for her part, sees beauty in the diversity and design of these covers. For her, each manhole cover is an entrance to another world, with its own aesthetics and meaning, which motivates her to continue documenting them.

Throughout these ten years, our community has shown that even the most everyday items can hide fascinating stories and become cultural treasures. And best of all, this adventure is far from over!

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“The first of these manhole covers was captured by our member Montserrat Sáez on 13 April 2014”

Here’s one I took in 2013; I doubt it commwas the first.

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