At a Latin American Photo Festival, Poetic and Political Imagery

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A report by James Estrin for The New York Times.

Citlali Fabián’s timeless portraits of her female friends and family members in Oaxaca explore the complexities of indigenous identity amid the effects of colonialism and racism in Mexico. She works slowly and collaboratively, discussing with the women how best to convey their feelings about their roots, while striving to avoid the visual clichés that are often associated with the region.

“Oaxaca is a visually rich place full of culture and folklore and many photographers come year after year to take photos of celebrations like the Day of the Dead,” Ms. Fabián said. “I think the main difference is they just came to take photos like a hunter — to just catch whatever crosses their lenses. I honestly find it rude.”

Her powerful photos, made on glass with the 19th-century ambrotype process, are on display at the Bronx Documentary Center’s second annual Latin American Foto Festival, from July 11 to 21. Some of the exhibits will be on the Melrose neighborhood streets where Spanish is often spoken by immigrants and their children, said Cynthia Rivera, who curated the festival with Michael Kamber, the founder of the Center.

Citlali Fabián’s collaborative ambrotype portraits of Oaxacan women and girls explore Indigenous identity. Here, “Nhawe, mi madre, (my mother).”

“Our neighborhood is predominantly people from all different parts of Latin America,” Ms. Rivera said, “and we are bringing photographers and photographs from these countries so people can easily see work from the places they are from, and those from outside the community can understand these stories.”

 

The festival features 10 photographers from eight Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Many of the workshops, tours, and panel discussions will be conducted in Spanish.

Most of the artists are working on intimate stories about social issues using innovative visual approaches that stretch the boundaries of traditional documentary photography.

The Colombian photographer Andrés Cardona was orphaned as a young child when both of his parents were murdered by death squads. Two of Yael Martínez’s brother-in-laws, Ignacio and David, disappeared in Iguala in southern Mexico, the same town where 43 students were kidnapped and disappeared in 2014. A third brother-in-law, Beto, died in what the authorities said was a jailhouse suicide.

Andrés Cardona: “My cousin Aldemar Vargas Jr., whose father was executed in Colombia alongside my father, and dumped into a mass grave. My mother was also killed by government forces, and our family does not know exactly where she is buried.” 
A family heart made from photos of Perla Granda’s missing brothers, on the wall of her bedroom. They are brothers-in-law of Yael Martínez, the photographer.

“Surrounded by violence, poverty and the corruption of governments and institutions, we are trying to raise our voices and talk about the issues we are dealing with as communities and how we see life and how we want to represent life,” Mr. Martínez said.

His poetic images are more about feelings than facts, and through them we experience his family’s anguish as well as the love that binds them. Mr. Martínez strove to show his “fears, dreams and nightmares” in his project, he said, and a “straight documentary approach was not the best way to do that.” Throughout his work he has used strategies that are as much of the art world as traditional documentary, including combining his photographs with drawings by his brother Orlando Velázquez.

In his story about the loss of his parents, Mr. Cardona mixes his own visceral photographs with family snapshots, and also recreates scenes including the discovery of the bodies of his father and uncle.

Mysterious images of Afro-Ecuadorian women by Johis Alarcónexemplify how many Latin-American photographers are finding ways to express inner emotional and spiritual lives that are not easily visualized.

When Fabiola Ferrero’s parents fled their homes in Caracas, Venezuela, to live in safety in Colombia, she chose to stay to document the pervasive violence, inflation and food and medicine shortages for international publications like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

 Fabiola Ferrero took this photo of two members of a militia created by the former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez during the commemoration of the third anniversary of his death, in Caracas.  
Fred Ramos’s photograph of relatives and friends of Sgt. Pablo Cándido Vega at the cemetery in Panchimalco, El Salvador, in April 2015. 
Johis Alarcón documented the indelible influence of African culture in Ecuador, and how the descendants of enslaved women maintained their culture. Alba Pavón, a community leader in her neighborhood in Quito and a descendant of slaves, bathing in a spring near her home.
Christopher Gregory, “Yabucoa Tennis Club” Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, 2017.

In her personal project, “Blurred in Despair” Ms. Ferrero focused instead on the emotional toll of the ongoing crisis.

“There are a lot of images of Venezuela that portray what is going on and that’s great, but I wanted to complement them by exploring how these events are affecting us as human beings,” she said. “I want to leave a record for future generations of how this trauma is changing us as a society.”

 

Ms. Ferrero created metaphoric images to represent the mental state of Venezuelans and turned to pairing photos to create a more visceral experience. In successful diptychs, she said, the images talk to each other, “making a smaller narrative within a bigger narrative.”

These photographers live in countries with vastly different cultures but with a shared language and similar histories of Spanish colonialism and American influence. Their work in the festival suggests that many of them are exploring less conventional methods to create more nuanced views of their countries.

They are, Ms. Ferrero said, trying to find a way “to create a voice on our own instead of adopting the voices and narratives that we’ve seen in the media.”

“What’s happening today with Latin American photography will shape how we all will see the world in the next few decades — and this is a good thing,” she said.

Tomas Ayuso photographed Moises (left) and Jaime (right), atop a hill overlooking their neighborhood in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, August 2017.
CreditTomas Ayuso

Latin American Foto Festival

July 11-21 at the Bronx Documentary Center, 614 Courtlandt Avenue, Bronx; 718-993-3512, bronxdoc.org.

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