Art

Photographing the Personal Through the Murky Frame of the Political

The second annual Latin American Foto Festival, organized by the Bronx Documentary Center, gathers ten photographers eloquently using photography as journalistic evidence, personal catharsis, and cultural celebration.

Fred Ramos, a Honduran child plays near train tracks in Arriaga, Chiapas, in southern Mexico, October 2018. (all photographs courtesy of Bronx Documentary Center unless otherwise noted)

Inside the Bronx Documentary Center and an annex of neighboring buildings is the second annual Latin American Foto Festival, on view July 11 through July 21. The exhibition, made up of ten photographers representing a diverse stretch of Latin America, from Mexico to the Caribbean and South America, depicts each country’s social, political, economic, and humanitarian struggles. Though much of the work feels confined by the practical limits of photojournalism, by the obligation to represent “truth” rather than sentiment, these photographers challenge the limits of journalism by capturing the personal through the murky frame of the political.

Citlali Fabián, “Nhawe, mi madre (my mother)” (2017)

Tackling the political out of necessity rather than choice, the artists selected are primarily seasoned photojournalists living and working in their home countries. Smartly curated and organized, most countries depicted are represented by a single photographer and occupies its own exhibition space, giving the work the room needed to pull viewers into narratives of strife, disappearance, and grief. Unsettling and full of intimate tragedy, the Foto Festival is an evocative display of photographic malleability. Wandering from building to building, through lush community gardens and outdoor installations, the photography on view shifts between various states of journalistic evidence, personal catharsis, and cultural celebration.

Fabiola Ferrero, A female security officer holds her shield after a man kicked her repeatedly on an opposition demonstration in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 2nd, 2017. Part of the project Blurred in Despair.

Fabiola Ferrero, born in Caracas in 1991, began working on the series “Blurred in Despair” in 2015, shot in rich black and white and through the lens of hard-hitting journalism. Looking beyond the protests, violence, and food shortages, Ferrero instead documents the lasting toll of violence as it permeates every aspect of daily life. Gazing through rain-soaked windows, graffiti-covered dividers, or the patterns of domestic curtains, her portraits transform familiar faces and bodies into outlines, shapes, and shadows, as though they themselves are losing their identities.

Fabiola Ferrero, [Left] A cemetery in Portuguesa State, Venezuela. [Right] A farmer stands behind a plastic curtain in Portuguesa State, Venezuela. November 2017. Part of the project Blurred in Despair.
In careful composite images, Ferrero contrasts the texture of everyday life — city signage, a pet turtle, schoolboys with SpongeBob backpacks — with aerial images of vast cemeteries, sweeping landscapes, and slaughter-bound animals. Luis Soto, in a similar manner, looks unflinchingly at his native Guatemala, albeit with more despair and cynicism. Soto, however, tries to go beyond journalism, contrasting the celebratory vibe of local street culture, from horse races to musicians and carnivals, with evidence-like images of handguns, perpetrators, and gravesites.

Installation view of Luis Soto, “Tierra de Nadie” (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Moving from evidence to collective memory, viewers come upon the blurred, grainy, and small-scale photographs of the Mexican photographer Yael Martínez, part of a series titled The House That Bleeds. In warm hues reminiscent of tungsten light, his images immediately evoke a haunting feeling, well before viewers discover these photographs explore the tragedy of Mexico’s 37,000 citizens officially declared “missing.” An intimate portrait of a husband and wife in bed, a still life of blunt knives resting on a wooden table, an empty room full of scattered flower petals, the portrait of a careworn woman surrounded by snapshots of children; the possible narratives are endless. Simple and serene, Martinez leaves as much room for interpretation as there is ambiguity around the disappeared.

Yael Martinez, “La casa que sangra (autoretrato con mi hija y la presencia de un ahorcado)“/”The house that bleeds (self portrait with my daughter and a presence of a hanging man)” Guerrero, Mexico, 2013.

Drawing on personal memory is the slideshow installation of the Colombian photographer Andres Cardona titled “Destroyed Family.” Outside, yet sheltered in a garage-like space, Cardona projects a series of images onto a brick wall, giving the photographs an unexpected texture and dimension. In a blunt depiction of loss, there are bodies lying face down in dirt graves, caskets, and wooden crosses flip past, offset by sunsets, biblical statues, and nostalgic family snapshots. A tribute to the 20 members of Cardona’s family killed as a result of the government’s war with FARC, the work deals with nightmares as much as repressed memories of death and disappearance.

Installation view of Andres Cardona, “Wreck Family” (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

While not all the work was motivated by tragedy — for example, the sentimental, large-format portraits of Citlali Fabián celebrate the beauty and rich history of mestiza women — it is a difficult journey this exhibition takes us on. The complicated reality of contemporary politics and our complicity cannot be escaped. From country to country, the toll on countless human lives is hard to fathom, yet these photographers take us into the depths of their differing realities. At a time when we are confronted daily by the exploits of our government and its effects on Latin America, these photographers offer us an essential vantage point.

Installation view of Andres Cardona, “Wreck Family” (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

A panel discussion on Migration & Violence In Latin America will be held Friday, July 19 at 7pm at the Bronx Documentary Center (614 Courtlandt Ave, Bronx, NY 10451). Exhibiting photographers Fabiola Ferrero, Andres Cardona, and Fred Ramos will discuss the link between violence and migration in Latin America.

The Latin American Foto Festival, presented by the Bronx Documentary Center, continues through July 21 at the center and surrounding locations. The festival was curated by Michael Kamber and Cynthia Rivera.

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