“Current Photography From Colombia” Shares the Colombian Experience with S.F.

Colombia is a country overflowing with love, pain, faith, and through it all, a sense of survival. It is a nation that has suffered, working hard to not be shrouded in the stereotypical veil of drugs, violence, and scandal. However, these things did happen, shaping the country. Photography, often the truest truth, captures these moments, these movements, these feelings. Four Colombian photographers — Jaime Ávila, Zoraida Díaz, Luz Elena Castro, and Andrés Felipe Orjuela — offer their visual representation of the Colombian experience in the exhibition Fourth World: Current Photography from Colombia, curated by Carolina Ponce de León and Santiago Rueda Fajardo, and running through October 24 at SF Camerawork.

“The emphasis of the show is to depict the '80s, a decade of armed conflict, during which Colombia struggled internally, through both political and ideological differences central to such issues as the war against el narco-tráfico, militant guerrilleros, and a high rate of crime,” says photographer Luz Elena Castro.

Castro doesn't shy away from showing what others, especially some Colombians (myself included), might view as images portraying the country in a negative light. “I think my pictures accurately represent my country during that time. Taken out of historical context, it is possible to construe a stereotypical 'negative' Colombia, but this is certainly not the intention, nor the reality of my work. Colombia is a much safer and happier place today.”

The exhibit, spread throughout the bright and airy SF Camerawork space, portrays this reality beautifully. Andrés Felipe Orjuela took Colombian tabloid photos, and hand-illuminated them, adding brilliant and unexpected doses of color to his “Dead Archive” series. Zoraida Díaz, who also shows striking photos on protests in Baltimore, provides black-and-white photographs that shock and stir emotions. Images of children holding guns evoke a deep helplessness at not being able to help these innocent babes, who were asked to partake in the national suffering too soon. Jaime Ávila stretched his photos amongst dozens of CD cases, creating an artistic clear grid that made each photo an oversized window into a past, one that seems just within reach. Finally, there is the work of Luz Elena Castro, who captures a variety of Colombians in black-and-white — politicians, the military, children — all with their own story told in a single snap.

“My favorite work is “Guardians”, a religious imagery that has a good sense of humor,” Castro said. “It's a classical moment from Easter Celebrations in Colombia. It contrasts the beautiful innocence of the kids with the suffering of Jesus Christ.”

(She will be speaking on her experiences as a photojournalist on Oct. 8 at SF Camerawork).

Colombians often feel a large pressure to go out of their way to change negative public opinion about the country and its people, to send a positive message, but no direct message is given in this show, or perhaps needed.

“My intent with this exhibition isn't to deliver a message,” Castro said. “I think the images selected by the curators speak for themselves, and together represent an important time in the history of Colombia.”

Fourth World: Current Photography from Colombia, through Oct. 24, at SF Camerawork, 1011 Market, 415-487-1011.

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