SF Camerawork’s current exhibition of contemporary Colombian photography was curated by a pair of Colombian curators, Carolina de Ponce de León (former executive director of Galería de la Raza) and Santiago Rudea Fajardo, an independent curator and critic. Though the exhibition features only four artists, it successfully captures a wide range of topics and approaches in the photographic medium.
Zoraida Diaz and Luz Elena Castro are primarily photojournalists whose straight photography captures the political context of Colombia in the 1980s, as well as more recent images from political protests in Baltimore this spring produced by Diaz. Diaz has a fantastic eye for human expression, unearthing a deeper truth behind protests and political events.
Castro is subtler, and her array of images covering revolutionary violence and peace negotiations say much more about the exercise of power than any protest slogan could. Her empathy for her subjects is nowhere sharper than in La Moda Nace Aqui [Fashion is Born Here] (1993), a portrait of a young girl selling toy cars on the street in Leticia, Bogotá in front of a closed boutique with a painted mural on the front of its security shutter. The child is dressed in her Sunday best and she just beams in front of a shabby, awkward mural of a fashionably dressed woman. Her pride makes the viewer forget that this is an image of child labor.
Jaime Ávila also focuses on the unregulated economy in three photo installations included in the show. His C-prints are made to fit in plastic CD covers, and three pieces occupy the walls and floor in locations around the gallery. Working on two surfaces allows him to juxtapose imagery by generating two images composed of multiple photos, one on each surface, each photo the size of a single CD case. In Talento Pirata Calle 17 [Pirate Talent, 17th Street] (2013), the image on the wall is a close-up of a DVD seller setting up on an empty corner, while a man—the only other figure on the street—walks behind him, looking downward. On the floor is a more distant view of a street market post-peak, but with multiple vendors and buyers in an open plaza with trash strewn on the ground. This work toys with the photographic tradition of double exposure. In Ávila’s articulation, two complementary images do not overlap but instead produce a kind of narrative by abutting each other in real space. Further, the CD cases break up the images into segments, each of which stands as a successful abstract composition. The cases also reflect the sort of bootlegged products sold in this informal economy. But when viewed together these individual small images form a cohesive whole, generating the photographic image and offering a metaphor for this economy overall. In effect, each individual photograph works to produce a comprehensive picture, just as each worker, regulated or not, participates in generating the overall economy.
Jaime Ávila. Talento Pirata Calle 17 [Pirate Talent 17th Street], 2013; C-prints in plastic CD cases. Courtesy of the Artist and SF Camerawork. Photo: Ben Hoffman.
Andres Felipe Orjuela also uses innovative techniques as part of his re-photography project. Orjuela managed to salvage a number of old police photographs that were apparently dumped on the street. These images are replete with historical details originally produced not for their visual interest but as evidence. Curiously enough, the inscriptions on the back of the photos—presented on the wall labels—do not seem to match the images on the front in many cases. In Coca Traffickers (2013), two men stand with bags stuffed with marijuana. On the label, an original typewritten inscription describes the haul of marijuana that was brought in, but this text is crossed out and in colored pencil the words “traficantes de coca” (coca traffickers) are inscribed. Apparently the evidence needed to be altered to fit the accusation.
Orjuela uses a hand-coloring technique that gives the prints a nostalgic air despite their unpleasant subject matter. In another work, Luis Aldana Uno de los Antisociales Detenidos en la Mañana de Hoy Cuando Trataba de Huir [Luis Aldana One of the Antisocial Arrested in the Morning While Trying to Escape] (2014), a photograph of a subject who was jailed for resisting arrest, the viewer sees a uniformed leg being raised against a man cowering in his underwear behind his meager bed. The image raises the issue of the militarization of Colombia beginning in the 1960s, but the gap between the subject of the photograph, police brutality, and the coloring of the image produces a sense of discomfort. There is the nostalgia of historical distance but also lost innocence. If these factual documents, made to support bogus claims by the police, can be read as romanticized history, the work suggests that the tension between current knowledge about the past and evidence of historical transgressions can challenge idealized projections of history.
This exhibition follows on the heels of Existe lo que Tiene Nombre: Contemporary Photography in Mexico, a survey SF Camerawork co-hosted with Galería de la Raza in April and May of this year. Taken together, these exhibitions make SF Camerawork preeminent in presenting contemporary Latin American photography in the Bay Area. Such a program highlights the advantage of working with guest curators to extend the institution’s purview and suggests other avenues that SF Camerawork could explore in order to continue to diversify the offerings of global contemporary art in the Bay Area.
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Fourth World: Current Photography from Columbia is on view at SF Camerawork, in San Francisco, through October 24, 2015.