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Book Review - The Altering Eye

Updated: May 22, 2020


Combat photographer Zoraida Diaz’ “The Altering Eye” is a good story, well told via a series of essays. And it is a story worth telling. It is not just a war book, it is not only a ripping yarn about taking risks to get dramatic news photos. It’s also about her and how Colombia shaped her. And about how we remember, and are shaped by how and what we remember. Ultimately, it is also about the intolerable human condition.

It is interesting to see how a photographer, with her visual eye, records memories prompted by those photos when putting down the camera and turning to the keyboard. In so doing, she proves to have a writer’s eye, being able to capture a vivid story in words instead of through her lens. The lens can be selective - pressing the shutter a second earlier or a second later records a different memory.

There are some excellent passages, memorable vignettes that had me waking up next day with images I couldn’t shake - like her recollection of cleaning out the grooves on the soles of her boots after walking through charred human remains when a terrorist bomb destroyed an Avianca aircraft and all on board. Or the man with the tin heart and the passion there, told with revealing insights, but with restraint. Or the handsome rebel leader in the darkened interior of the church with his candle ...

I read a while ago about the difficulty of being an art show judge. A judge was asked how she chose an exhibition winner. She said it is the piece that she’s still thinking about two days later. I’ll remember - for a long while - the story about the commemorative memorial to Colombia’s 200,000-plus civil war victims, and the images of bodies being carried down mountains trussed like animal carcasses on poles.

I plan to let the many images dim before re-reading this photographer’s written reflections. Like most insular, self-centred, Euro/US-centric Australians, I am not familiar with the story of Colombia and its characters. Reading this makes me want to learn more.

Photograph by Zoraida Diaz. Medellín, 1993

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