False Memory: reimagining the ruined landscapes of Latin America
«I saw the debris and the empty holes, the ghost towns, the dead tracks of the nitrate railway, the silent telegraph wires, the skeletons of nitrate fields mangled by the bombardment of years, the cemetery crosses buffeted at night by the cold wind, the whitish hills of slag piled up beside the excavations.»
Eduardo Galeano in “Open Veins of Latin America”.
This ongoing photographic series and transmedia project focuses on the continuous degradation of the Latin American landscape, from its colonization until now. The expressive descriptions of these territories in Eduardo Galeano’s book “Open Veins of Latin America” (quoted above) are a source of inspiration, and physical starting points from which to photograph. From there, I let the circumstances guide me to reach other places.
Reading Galeano’s book generated astonishing images in my mind: a once mighty mountain, holder of a torrent of precious metals, now transformed into a hollow shell; environments once fertile and unique, man-made into desolate plains. In making the work included here, I traveled widely and can sadly attest that many of Galeano’s blunt depictions are still valid, 40 years later. I have documented land that shows the accumulated effects of the extraction of resources over the centuries. In contrast, I have also photographed sites of recent exploitation.
Do the scars left behind on these altered landscapes account for all which development has, and continues to devour? From 2012-2014 I documented landscapes and communities in Bolivia, Chile and Mexico that during the colonial period contributed to globally significant economic changes, at the cost of invaluable human and natural resources. Some cities became cultural and economic centers through the business bonanza, but they now hang on precariously to memories of that distant past. Nearly all of these places are being slowly poisoned by the decaying industrial ruins, left behind by those who exploited them.
With the images included here, I’ve begun to explore the use of different ‘voices’ by mixing a variety of digital and analogical photographic formats, using both black and white and color. Everywhere I travel I gather archival imagery with the goal of creating a dialogue between the historical record and my own audio, video and photographic impressions. I imagine these elements in an exchange of ideas and points of view, like characters interacting in a novel.
Despite Galeano’s at times harsh accounts of destruction and abuse in the region, reading “Open Veins of Latin America” left me hopeful. The book denounces, but at the same time announces that reality can be different. In it, the author argues that a false memory has been imposed on the Latin American identity, and that misfortune does not define our destiny. I am moved by Galeano’s proposition that reality is ultimately not a final destination, but a challenge.
1 Eduardo Galeano in “Open Veins of Latin America”
This project has been partly funded by a production grant from Mexico’s Sistema Nacional de Creadores de Arte (National System of Art Creators) FONCA / CONACULTA 2012 – 2014.
The cameras I use to photograph this project: 4×5 pinhole, 35 mm DSLR, and 6×7 cms. Each is meant to deliver a contrasting voice within the series; as different characters in a novel would.
Shot around various locations, Chile, 2014.
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