interviews

Santiago Jaramillo-Escobar, Part II

© Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, "Hombresolo" from Ciudadelas en Conflicto

Photographer and publisher Alec Soth and I have started a small project on our mutual sites that will take an extended look at contemporary photography in Colombia. Medellín-based photographer and educator Gabriel Mario Vélez will also be joining us on this project.

We're looking at trends and traditions; events, institutions and venues; as well as pursuing conversations with curators, academics, gallerists and photographers themselves. We plan to approach the project through a variety of types of posts including interviews, book reviews, published letters, portfolios of images and more.

Posts so far in the series include:
What is happening in contemporary Colombian photography?, LBM
Popsicle #40: Guadalupe Ruiz, LBM
Project Release: Juan Orrantia, "The afterlife of coca (and its) dreams" fototazo
Portfolio: Matt O'Brien, "No Dar Papaya" fototazo
Interview: Camilo Echavarría, fototazo
Jorge Panchoaga on Contemporary Photography in Colombia, fototazo
An Interview with Mateo Gómez Garcia, LBM
Carlos Villalon, Some frames I have made, fototazo
Interview: Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, Part I, fototazo

Today we continue with the Part II of our interview with Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo.
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© Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, from "Can You Hear Us? / ¿Puedes oírme?" Intervention
to Doris Salcedo's "Shibboleth," Tate Modern, Londres

fototazo: Let’s move back now to some of your previous work, including Pueblo Fantasma that you mentioned previously. My sense is that COLOMBIA, tierra de luz is a departure for you from previous work. Can you talk about that change in working method, and perhaps use that as a way to talk about your previous projects in terms of their process, form and content?

Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo: Before I go on, I want to thank you for inviting me to reflect on my own work. have found it's an important exercise that one should do more often.

When I finished my master's degree and I was planning my return, I knew I wanted to try to take the next step. I was so involved in seeing scale and meaning from a different point of view that I came up with the idea.

Pueblo Fantasma as you suggest, became the base for what was coming next. To pass from 1:72 scale to 1:1 was precisely what I was encouraged to develop. My parents had moved to a new apartment which had the Morro de Sancancio, a tutelar mountain, just in front. I made some drawings of tents - monolithic pyramids - located on the slope of the mountain which simulated an invasion of a displaced population. And I asked core questions: What could citizens assume by seeing this event?; Isn't it very particular to Manizales that it has never been involved in the Colombian conflict?; How can land art be an act to call attention?; How can photography be a mechanism to register an event?; Does lighting the tents up also point out that these people also suffer during the night?; Can friends, colleagues and regular citizens be allies to fulfill my tasks?

Those were some of the questions I put on the table. And I have to say, the results were very positive. Not only because they resonated with me but also because they became the foundations for developing COLOMBIA, tierra de luz.

© Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, "Mother, Dance & Calf" from Ciudadelas en Conflicto, INV!SIBLES

After Manizales, Pueblo Fantasma moved to Armenia, Medellín and finally to Santa Marta's shore. I put the same tents floating on the sea close to the marina to symbolize a water-break which steals land from the sea, the historical land which has been snatched from peasants by violence and large landholders.

Some weeks before doing this intervention, I visited a real ghost town in Magdalena. Santa Rita had hundreds of abandoned houses in ruins with only their walls standing as skeletons, without doors, windows, roofs and furniture. Everyone had left, leaving the image of a very sad story. When I went back, I talked to the very few people staying there as new returnees. We decided to light up the abandoned houses - through a simple wick system - to simulate the idea that the village was alive once again. Thus the whole village was alight with hope. Each abandoned house contained heat and a home within its walls as a symbol of return. The entire population took part in the intervention.

After these interventions, it became clear how to go on with the bigger project.

© Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, "Abajo del mar, encima el amor" from Ciudadelas en Conflicto, INV!SIBLES

f: And looking back to your earliest photographic work, can you see the origins of these types of interventions, your interest in using art for social activism and the themes you currently work with, including displacement and violence? Or is your earliest work quite far away from these ways of making work?

SEJ: If you see my first major project Citadels in Conflict and the next one INVIS!BLES, then you find political statements which reflect on conflict. Using miniature plastic soldiers was a strategy for symbolizing that citizens and single men who are enrolled in the army are like figurines which can be moved and changed as in a chess game. They are the mechanism of power which leaders and commanders use to fulfill their goals. Nevertheless, to build these models was the manifestation of the platonic desire to have conflict contained only in imagination, rather than in reality. That was the purpose of using bright acrylics and mirrors to reflect objects in both planes: the positive and the negative.

In the same sense, COLOMBIA, tierra de luz involves the construction of sculptures on a bigger scale. Here, the power is given to the victims - and the photographer – countering the idea that violence is the only entity that can make decisions and make an impact.

We can also say the intervention works towards an understanding of space. The spatial conditions are given not only to be seen, but to be experienced with other sensorial senses such as touch, smell, hearing and taste. The intervention also emphasizes the importance of valuing activities, relationships, memory and imagination. These aspects can be seen in this work and also in my largest body of work, my urban and street photography.

Of course, my interest in conflict is not seen specifically in my urban and street photography. In this work, I'm more focused on giving order to chaos by finding geometry and through aesthetics, and vice versa. The work is critical by making satirical comments about daily life and normal people. On the street, I apply a different method to relate to people based more on observation and invisibility, rather than being an omnipresent participant of the event.

© Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, from London, gap my mind

f: You're part of a photography collective with Jorge Panchoaga and Federico Rios called Colectivo de Fotografía +1. What are the reasons that you decided to form a collective? What opportunities and advantages has being part of this collective brought you as a photographer? And are there things that you also have had to give up as an individual photographer to be part of the collective?

SEJ: During this entire journey I have been meeting great photographers. Some of them national and others from different countries, some experienced and younger ones too. However, I have been particularly attached to working alongside those from my generation. It's important to notice that these days, the photographic praxis is very different to the one happening two and three decades ago. Today we have a lot of access to information and more opportunities can be found to develop yourself as a photographer, and I find contemporary photographers more adaptive to these conditions.

That's one of the reasons that motivated me to form the Colectivo +1 with my pals Federico and Jorge. I profoundly respect their work. For instance, I see Federico's work as an extension of his life. How he thinks and feels, he photographs... and that's uncommon to find. He always researches his topics plus his advanced skill level with the camera helps him express himself as a serious documentary photographer who seeks longer-term stories, rather than hard news. He never puts aside his artistic sensibility to produce projects such as Comuna 13 - Medellín, Ocupas - São Paulo and La Firma de los Ríos among others. I am curious to see the edition of his latest project about reconciliation. He is also very generous and shares his knowledge which is a huge benefit for being around him.

© Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, from London, gap my mind

Jorge is very talented as well. I truly admire his work as he takes time to analyze the world surrounding him, which combined with his good eye and vast knowledge creates powerful and beautiful projects. His latest work, La Casa Grande, is the best example you can get of this. Also, working along with him for Fujifilm as an X-Photographer for the past few months has been an opportunity for me to see his street photography series Casi Café and Guatever in shadows which I like a lot. As you can imagine, I feel very proud of being part of this cohesive, experienced and creative group.

Furthermore, we share similar interests. We think that knowledge and experience as teachers and photo-leaders has to be shared. When you give to others, you receive at the same time. Another aspect is the importance of working with communities. We have been doing that for the last ten years as individuals and it is inspiring. When we came together, we knew that this must be continued. One example of this is the huge project we developed in Quibdó, Chocó. We were invited to document Las Fiestas de San Pacho, the people's carnival. We convinced the authorities to extend an invitation to local photographers to participate in a free and open workshop. During the celebration we managed to walk around with the students while we photographed. It was a really cool experience, which helped us to create the first installment of the visual memory generator project - GEMEVI (generadores de memoria visual) - that will contribute to producing some future visual language of the city and their celebrations. The last and not least aspect, is the permanent activity we have as photographers. We are lucky to travel permanently around the country and abroad on different photography commissions which make us actively involved in the themes we are looking at. We are constantly refreshing our portfolio, methods, contacts and knowledge.

© Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, from London, gap my mind

I don't feel it is an impediment to work with others. As a collective, we are still assured of having our own space to produce personal projects. Sometimes we collaborate as pairs or between the three of us. We give freedom to our personalities to express things sincerely. For sure it could be seen as problematic to negotiate our different points of view, though at the end we always work out a compromise. I strongly recommend to other Colombian photographers to do collaborations.

f: Any last things you'd like to add, Santiago?

SEJ: Sure! I just want to add that photography has to be moved by conviction, knowledge and practice. Success shouldn't be expected if you are looking for results. Photographers must give value to the process and recognize it as the milestone of our profession.

I also want to recognize the labor you and Alec Soth are doing to promote Colombian photography. Certainly, Colombia will have something to say about the topic in the upcoming future. And in my case, I don't want to miss it. I hope I can continue adding some photos to the album!

© Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, from London, gap my mind


Simon Crofts

© Simon Crofts

Simon Crofts was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, which is where he now lives once again after many years away. He studied at Magdalen College, Oxford University, and worked as a lawyer in Moscow when Russia was just emerging from the Soviet Union. In 2001 he started working as a photographer and moved to live in Poland, in Krakow. His wife, Sylwia Kowalczyk, is a Polish photographer and the two cooperate closely in their work. Most of Simon's work has been in Eastern Europe, including a series of pictures about the Russian ballet tradition, but he is also working on a project about paganism in contemporary Scotland.

In the Land of Endless Expectations is due to be published as a book by Kehrer Verlag.
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© Simon Crofts

fototazo: You worked for many years as a lawyer and lived in Russia and Poland for extended times, how do those experiences inform your work?

Where and why along the line did you pick up photography?

Simon Crofts: Russia, Ukraine and Poland were what I was really interested in, being a lawyer was a vehicle for getting access to the region at an exciting time when the Soviet Union had just broken up. I moved to Moscow because I was into Russian music and literature. When I was working in London, I would spend my time on the Tube to and from work learning Russian.

My job was the best thing I could have done to see what was happening in a way that few other people could. It meant taking part in some extraordinary events - the first big privatisations in Russia, helping to advise on huge oil, gas and diamond projects, trying to set up the first cooperation with the West in the space industry, and so on. Those experiences definitely informed my photography work. I don't think you can really understand what's happening in Russia or Ukraine now (and that's what this project is all about) without properly understanding what happened in the '90's. And I was right in the middle of it.

After a year or two in Moscow, I decided that what was going on around me needed recording, so I bought a camera and started carrying it in my coat pocket and taking some pictures in my lunch break. That was at first mostly in black and white, partly because that was all the material that I could source then - and I set up a makeshift Soviet enlarger and developing arrangement over my bath. At some point, the photography became much more important to me than the day job.

© Simon Crofts

By the time I moved to Poland I had already left law and was working as a photographer - and my wife, Sylwia Kowalczyk, is Polish and also a photographer. The more I learned about this Russian-Ukrainian-Polish rainbow, and saw the differences in perspectives, the more interesting that aspect became.

Ukraine is right in the middle (despite its name meaning "borderland") and fascinating for that. But I was interested in the different historical perspectives - especially about the Great Patriotic War, but also subtle forms of national consciousness formed by literature and earlier peoples - the echoes of Scythians, Sarmatians (and the Polish szlachta) (even though it is arguable whether the Sarmatians actually existed), Cossacks, Tartars, Rusity and so on - geo-political divisions can really be traced to different idealised versions of the past. You can see it in the current problems between Russia and Ukraine, which constantly refer to Bandera, World War II, the ethnic make up and history of Crimea, the relations between Tartars and Cossacks and so on – so this look at culture and history is not about the past – it's about what is going on today. I'm interested on how this plays out on an individual level now - experiences, and personal relationships - rather than documenting international politics directly.

© Simon Crofts

f: How does In the Land of Endless Expectations compare to your past work in terms of themes and working methods?

SC: It's a development of the same issues, because that is my life. The images from the Expectations project were mostly taken in the last couple of years or so, since I returned to living in Scotland. Coming back I think gave me some time to reflect on, to absorb, what had happened - while I was in Russia and later Poland I think I was too close to absorb it. So I paid several visits back to Ukraine and Russia and Belarus to take pictures for the Expectations project after I had finished living there. But I developed my working methods in the sense that I started not just taking pictures but making notes, interviewing people, and making audio recordings, which I hadn't done before.

I've also been taking a parallel series of photos about the Russian ballet tradition which overlaps with Expectations - because what I am interested in is not so much people doing pirouettes, amazing though that is, but the fact that ballet is an important part of Russian culture and the people who do it are fascinating. So I see these different works going on in parallel. I don't want each series to be an insulated intellectual exercise with strict rules, it's all about what I want to talk about and therefore they have to connect.

The same goes for my series of "tourist" photographs about rooms I stayed in called Room with a View. When I go on holiday, I can't force myself to take a picture of local landmarks like a normal person, the part of each city as a tourist I feel the most connection to is the hotel room I stay in. It's maybe connected to Expectations in the sense that it also involves East-West cultural/societal observations.


© Simon Crofts

f: When you talk about being more interested in how ideas from literature, history and the '90s play out on an individual level than being interested in international politics per se, I wonder how you have been able to keep the politics and the macrodynamics of the region in the background while keeping the focus on the individual life, perhaps especially with the current events going on in the region.

How have you worked in your writing and photography to establish the balance you want between the individual and their various contexts - artistic, historic, political, etc - in which they live? Has it been hard to maintain those lines?

SC: Obviously what is going on in Ukraine at the moment is incredibly important, and I'm following events biting my nails. There are plenty of photographers specialising in conflicts and news who will go and document what is happening on Maidan or in Crimea far better than I could. Attempting to tie Expectations to a specific current event no matter how important (in fact, especially if it is important) could overwhelm the message of what I am really interested in talking about. But I think if a viewer is really prepared to engage with the Expectations project, then they'll start to understand much better what is going on between Russia and Ukraine. If more of this was understood, maybe some of these crises might even not happen in the first place. For a start, people in the West simply haven't paid enough attention to Ukraine up to now.

One thing I really don't like is our obsession with celebrity, and the fact that we only seem to be interested in something if it can be tied to a 50th anniversary or similar "hook." It frustrates me that we only seem to become interested in Ukraine if it is invaded by Russia. I mentioned Nadezhda Mandelstam quite a bit in my project, and to me this little old lady who made herself invisible was a far greater and more interesting figure than Stalin. Stalin was a crook who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and doesn't really deserve our attention except to know about the problems and tragedies that he caused and why. The almost unknown people who appear in my pictures are more worthy of attention than someone like Putin.

© Simon Crofts

One of my picture poems (not posted yet) is "The Secret Fear of a Knock on the Door" (which is a line from [Yevgeny] Yevtushenko's poem "Fears"). The accompanying essays explore power, and the manipulation of people using rules. [Dmitry] Medvedev is a lawyer, I worked with him for a while when he was just out of University in St Petersburg - and the Putin/Medvedev double act very much relies on bureaucracy, the exploitation of legal loopholes. "Fortune" I think is obviously connected to the current turmoil. So is "Utopia" - what aspirations are, even why Crimea has such a critical place in the Russian consciousness. But perhaps most of all, I hope it brings people from the regions involved in the events closer to us. In Chekhov short stories the situations are always complex, there is no absolute good and bad, no clean resolutions. Just tangled emotions, motives, consequences – but there is a clarity of vision and understanding.

The more we understand of this, the more that we sense the people involved in these events are real, that we can relate to them as individuals that we have a close connection with, the better. That goes not only for Ukrainians, but also for Russians. To have some kind of sense of the Gogol-ian bureaucracy, the psychological effect of the landscape, the historical reasons why many Russians want "a strong Tsar," the sense of national identity and the appeal of a Dostoyevskian sense of being special, and of course what people's aspirations are (Expectations) - all these things help to get a feeling for what is happening in Crimea and Ukraine now and why Putin acts as he does and many Russians support him. It may not solve the situation, but it helps to connect with it.

© Simon Crofts

f: Your project involves not only photographs but stories and is a large-scale, six-part project. With so many years lived in the region and a lot of potential source material in terms of stories, gained knowledge of the region and familiar people and areas you may have considered returning to photograph, how did you begin to organize the project and how did you arrive at its overarching structure?

SC: I started off by looking at more limited themes, considering putting images into a typology, or a narrow focus for example on, say, the dacha and close friends, or the intelligentsia etc. There seemed to be quite a bit of pressure to do this - to simplify the subject for the viewer, make it more bite-sized. The more I looked at it, the more I felt that this was not what I wanted to do, that there was more to be said by taking a much wider approach to the subject, seeing the interconnections between all these different picture poems and essays, which seemed to me where things really take off, even if it requires more concentration from the audience. I wanted to do my best to slow the viewer down a bit.

In fact, I don't think it has to be difficult for the viewer - because it is possible to dip into the project anywhere and take something out of it (which doesn't necessarily have to be the same as what I might see in it). I don't really expect the viewer to go through the project from beginning to end reading all the texts and looking at all the pictures. It's great if someone dedicated enough does so - but I don't expect it.

© Simon Crofts

In terms of structuring it, I kept coming back to these five poems by Yevtushenko that form [Dmitri] Shostakovitch's 13th Babi Yar Symphony. They seemed to give an overview of five different themes that covered an enormous amount of ground - Memory, humour, fear/power, women, and careers/integrity. If this could be done in a symphony, then why not in a photo series?

I considered structuring the project around them, but came to the conclusion that they didn't quite fit what I wanted to say. As a foreigner in the post-Soviet period, much as I admire him, I have a different perspective from Yevtushenko. So I took those as a starting point and modified the structure quite a long way from there, taking account of other threads in Russian literature (fortune/Chekhov for example) and my own experience (being a foreigner - the Curious Intimacy of Strangers).

On one trip to Ukraine I sat having a "kitchen conversation" with my ex-mother-in-law Larissa, who is a key character in the series, and we were talking about it. She suggested this idea of the "land of endless expectations" and that it clicked with me as it seemed to sum it all up.

© Simon Crofts

f: We've talked about some of your literature and music sources and their influence, how about sources from within photography itself? Do you have specific relationships with the work of other photographers, past or present, in your project?

SC: The biggest influence is Sylwia Kowalczyk, who apart from being an inspiring photographer - I'm married to her! We discuss everything all the time. But her work is quite different from mine – tends to be mostly studio based portraiture, and her way of seeing things is quite different. Of course, many photographers have photographed around the former Soviet Union. The one I feel most empathy with would be Rafal Milach, who has a close connection to his subject. Having lived in Poland with Polish photographer friends for quite a few years, I'm drawn towards photographers from Poland, Czech Republic and other Eastern European countries – Witold Wieteska, Vladimir Birgus, Miro Švolik. From western photographers I really like the likes of Hannah Starkey and find Greg Crewdson's work fascinating – a lot of the photography I like is not documentary. When I was a kid I had posters of Ben Nicholson and Joan Miro paintings hanging over my bed. I think maybe that might be more visible in my pictures of hotel rooms, but I think there is an undercurrent of it in all my pictures –a kind of desire to strip the a scene back to its elements, tones and weighted shapes distributed around the frame.

© Simon Crofts

f: How did you come to the conclusion to work with both text and image and what is your working process for going back and forth between words and photographs? For example, do you write in relation to a group of images? Do you look for images that can work with an existing story?

More generally, do you think photography and writing have ways of expressing ideas and exploring themes that are unique and that are not possible in the other medium? Or would have been possible, just not as eloquently or forcefully? It's a way to ask if you believe individual media have limits in terms of what ideas they can express and/or the range of how they can explore ideas.

SC: I think you ought to use whatever tools best get across what you want to say, whatever conveys emotion and meaning. I don't see why words shouldn't be used with images, or that there should be any rule that images should stand alone. After all, words work with music – song. I think this combination can be really exciting – both song and a free-flow of consciousness between image and word.

Expectations is really an image series – when I was taking them I kept thinking of the images as being like poems - pictures can have transparency, ambiguity, intuition and emotion, like an [Anna] Akhmatova poem. So I decided to refer to these mini-series as "picture poems."

The text here is a context, a series of recollections and thoughts. I don't claim to be a novelist, so the text followed the images – I chose and grouped the images as I would for any photo series – above all visually, bearing in mind the overall themes that I wanted to get across. The text followed naturally from there and was done last. The aim is to set the viewer's mind ticking, to suggest different directions to head off in, and also, I hope, to entertain.

© Simon Crofts

I always loved the fact that T.S. Eliot wrote notes to accompany The Wasteland to explain some of the more obscure references. I don't think it detracted from the poem at all. There is a lot of background that it just helps us to know. Russia and Ukraine are extremely complex societies and quite different from Britain for example. If there is something in Dostoyevsky that people really ought to understand to feel the pictures better, then that needs to be set out in text. Sometimes the subject in the image really has something interesting to say, and to stop them saying it would just be selfish, so sometimes the text is just them talking.

The website is also a kind of resource pool that people can dip into if they want to, and it frees me up to just show the images I want to without having to get distracted by trying to explain anything. When showing people the images in the past, I was really wanting to explain so much about what was behind them – now I don't have to, I can show the images if I want to without context, and if someone wants to know more, they can go back to the website and understand more. They don't have to, but it's there if they want it.

The pictures and text weave their own threads of consciousness independently, sometimes crossing, sometimes even in opposition to one another. The text isn't a literal explanation of the images, and the pictures aren't an illustration of the text. When you read the texts I think the pictures help you to feel that you are dealing with real people, you can look into their eyes and have a conversation with them, you can insert yourself into a situation, and you can see immediately a huge amount of information. But If you are forcing the viewer to come to a particular conclusion then that is propaganda and an insult to the viewer's intelligence. Again, the complexity comes back to Chekhov and the need to feel the possibilities of a situation rather than have everything spelled out.

© Simon Crofts

f: On your site's splash page, you’ve laid out the six picture poems with a dashed line moving the viewer along them. You said earlier on that you don't necessarily expect the viewer to go from beginning to end through the entire project, but how important is that sequence for you as the author of the work? How did you develop the sequence of the six in terms of publishing them?

SC: The sequence is pretty important, and I spent days chewing it over, because it forms a kind of journey of ideas, a development. The map gives a visitor to the website an idea of where they are in the journey – and also a quick visual concept of what it's all about without even having to read a sentence. But that doesn't mean that they should follow the journey from beginning to end.

© Simon Crofts

The thread is a bit like the Silk Route – important to understand where it's coming from, but it's still possible to go to Samarkand on holiday without starting in China! Some of my favourite books, like Barbara Tuchman's The Proud Tower, can be read by dipping in and reading whichever chapter catches your eye. And when you walk into a gallery – you can walk around the space in unpredictable ways, you may not read every caption or statement, and that is part of the charm of galleries – that the behaviour of the viewer determines how they see an exhibition.

I will also be publishing the series as a book later in the year, and the sequencing and selection of the images and materials will certainly be different, because it's a different medium. And a gallery presentation would be different again. Having wider background materials on the website should allow me to be more specific and targeted in other media without reproducing all the texts.

© Simon Crofts

f: Can you walk us through creating one of the picture poems a little bit? Let’s take "Fortune." What criteria did you use to select the images? How are you thinking about the sequence of images? What kind of elements are you considering as you sequence – mostly formal connections or more towards narrative implications? Why the quote at the beginning?

SC: The criteria for selection was above all visual, a matter of visual pacing, while of course keeping in mind the theme. The images in "Fortune" can't literally demonstrate a change of fortune because that would be banal and tell us nothing, so one of the selection criteria was that they should have more to them than the obvious.

But of course the narrative sequence is also important. I can't really divorce the narrative elements of an image from its visual properties. So, within the first three images I have a landscape that is closely tied to the first quote, to Chekhov. The quote is there for practical reasons and to create a small link with the essays. Without some context, the viewer might not realise that the first image is of a burial mound that is associated with buried Scythian treasure. This is the southern Ukrainian landscape where Chekhov grew up and many of his ideas and stories flowed out of his childhood in this landscape. It neatly encapsulates the idea that a change of fortune becomes almost more important than the thing itself. Hopefully it launches the viewer on this path of seeking out connections between images and literature, that the two don't exist in a vacuum.

© Simon Crofts

The second image, of the bear, not only has the idea of waiting, of melancholy (there is a special word that combines all of this in Russian - toska), but also introduces animals as a kind of reflection of humans, which pops up regularly in the images. When themes like this pop up, I'm also looking at pacing them through the images, so that hopefully they pop up at appropriate moments in the context of other images they work with visually. I'd probably best stop trying to deconstruct my own images, too much navel-gazing isn't healthy, but that’s the kind of thing that is going through my head when sequencing.

The third image, which is of Larissa at home, introduces a character (and place) who is important in the narrative of the poems, and especially in the "Utopia" third picture poem. Even if you don't read the essays, I hope there is a sense of intimacy, of the ascetic life of someone from the intelligentsia, and so on.

© Simon Crofts

"Fortune" is the starting point of the journey because it is the most directly and obviously connected to the overall Endless Expectations. Endlessly expecting what? – something to change – like in Beckett's Waiting for Godot. So it provides a context and a start, which can be developed in the other picture poems.

Because the text is separate, I don't think the content of each essay has any influence on the sequencing of images, it would be counter-productive if the text started driving the images. I let the text wander far from the images if it's better that way, because I don't want them too roped together. Sometimes I refer to an image a bit in the text with a thumbnail (partly just to make a block of text less intimidating, but also to contextualize it) but these thumbnails aren't in a special sequence, they're just a way encouraging the viewer to pass back and forth between the text and the image galleries.

© Simon Crofts


Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, Part I

© Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, "Z Quiebra de Naranjal, Caldas" from COLOMBIA-Tierra de luz

Photographer and publisher Alec Soth and I have started a small project on our mutual sites that will take an extended look at contemporary photography in Colombia. Medellín-based photographer and educator Gabriel Mario Vélez will also be joining us on this project.

We're looking at trends and traditions; events, institutions and venues; as well as pursuing conversations with curators, academics, gallerists and photographers themselves. We plan to approach the project through a variety of types of posts including interviews, book reviews, published letters, portfolios of images and more.

Posts so far in the series include:
What is happening in contemporary Colombian photography?, LBM
Popsicle #40: Guadalupe Ruiz, LBM
Project Release: Juan Orrantia, "The afterlife of coca (and its) dreams" fototazo
Portfolio: Matt O'Brien, "No Dar Papaya" fototazo
Interview: Camilo Echavarría, fototazo
Jorge Panchoaga on Contemporary Photography in Colombia, fototazo
An Interview with Mateo Gómez Garcia, LBM
Carlos Villalon, Some frames I have made, fototazo
Q&A: Victoria Holguín of fotomeraki, fototazo

Today we continue with the first of a two part interview with Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo.

Escobar-Jaramillo, studied architecture at the National University of Colombia and an MA (merit) in Photography and Urban Cultures at Goldsmiths College, University of London. His projects have been exhibited in over 70 individual and collective exhibitions. Santiago has photographed for Villegas Editores, UNHCR, MFO-Egypt, ICIPE-Kenya. He runs workshops for National Geographic Student Expeditions - London, Zona Cinco - Bogotá, La Havana, New York & Don Bosco - Cambodia. His project COLOMBIA, tierra de luz (Land of Light) was exhibited at the DRCLAS@Harvard. He is a former X-Photographer for Fujifilm and he is co-founder of the Colectivo de Fotografía +1, member of La Hydra and the Association of Urban Photographers.
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fototazo: Let's start by talking about how you arrived to photography.

Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo: In 1999 I was sent to the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, as a Colombian peace soldier in the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO). There I was assigned the task of translator and photographer. It was the first time, at 19 years of age, that I held a camera and took photos.

Back in Colombia, I decided to study architecture at the Manizales campus of the National University of Colombia. During my studies, I continued with photography, taking part in nationwide competitions and young artists exhibitions.

In 2007, having obtained a scholarship from Colfuturo, I traveled to London to do a Master's in Photography and Urban Cultures at Goldsmiths College, University of London.

I have been working as a photographer and artist in various countries in Africa, Asia, South America, Europe and in the United States. In 2006 and 2008, I traveled to East Africa, employed by the ICIPE institute of entomology (African Insect Science for Food and Health) to redesign its image and to create photographic documentation of its projects in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Sudan.

© Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, "Langostas - Sudan" from ICIPE 2006-2008

I also have participated in several exhibitions and some photo festivals, such as the 42nd Salón Nacional de Artistas - Colombia (National Exhibition of Artists); International Image Festival in Manizales; as curator of Encounters in Photography and Design I, II and III; in Bogota's Photography Biennale-Fotomuseo 2012; in the Critics and Investigators in Photography Conference in Montevideo; the Books in Photography workshop in Oaxaca by Trasatlántica-PhotoEspaña; and the BBVA & Bank of the Republic New Names exhibition and in international art festivals with Christopher Paschall SXXI Gallery among others.

When I returned to settle in Colombia, I was hired by Benjamín Villegas from Villegas Editores to photograph aspects of idiosyncrasy, landscapes and urban life around Colombia which have been published in ten documentary and architectural photobooks.

While I was traveling around the country for Villegas, I could imagine and begin the social and artistic project COLOMBIA, tierra de luz, which was exhibited last year at Harvard and MIT Universities.

Since 2011, I have been leading photo workshops in La Havana, New York and Bogotá for Zona Cinco, in various cities for UNHCR-United Nations, in Cambodia for Don Bosco, in London for CUCR-Goldsmiths and National Geographic Student Expeditions and recently for Fujifilm Colombia as a former X-Photographer.

© Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, "Uganda - Hoima, Honey Project" from ICIPE 2006-2008

f: Most photographers I know in Colombia haven't lived or worked overseas. How have those experiences influenced your own practice?

SEJ: Indeed. I have always said that living abroad brought me most of the opportunities and ideas I have had in my career. To live, study and travel around other countries (35 at this point) gives you a privileged point of view about life, arts and of course, photography. You get another sense of reality; you experience new places and environments which help you to adapt to circumstances you never expected before.

I had the possibility to develop projects and have experiences in other countries that I was not expecting to find in Colombia. For example, to visit top museums and galleries; to relate with other cultures and idiosyncrasies; to live in places with seasons; to travel across different geographies, ruins and architectures; and to make VIP contacts.

Every time I travel to other places I have the purpose to develop short- or long-term projects. Sometimes I work mainly on urban photography, in other moments I document people and landscape, while in other cases I imagine photography as an artistic creation.

© Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, "Tanzania - Usambaras, Tomato" from ICIPE 2006-2008

f: And how have these experiences allowed you to reflect on the contemporary landscape of photography in Colombia in a way that might not have been possible working and living only within Colombia your entire career? What does this "privileged point of view" see as you now live and work in Colombia again?

SEJ: When I became interested in photography, I didn't see it as a main objective itself, but as a medium to produce my artwork (i.e. Citadels in Conflict). I remember following Colombian artists: Óscar MuñozMiguel Ángel RojasRosario LópezJuan Fernando HerránJosé Alejandro RestrepoFernando AriasJaime Ávila and Doris Salcedo who were using photography to create amazing pieces. In art competitions, for example, photographs were always obtaining prizes and there was a sense that it would stay well-positioned for a long time which was something that had been happening for decades in developed countries.

I also have to admit, that at that time, I wasn't very interested in documentary photography and photojournalism. I knew few examples in Colombia or from around the world. Of course, this changed when I went to London to study and learned about [Henri] Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Sebastião Salgado, Nan Goldin and Joel Meyerowitz plus many other photographers I managed to see first hand in exhibitions, lectures and books. I got new influences there to be applied later.

That's why, when I headed back [to Colombia], I was paying a lot of attention to great national photographers such as Carlos PinedaFernell FrancoJorge Mario MúneraLibia PosadaErika DiettesCristobal von RothkirchJesús Abad Colorado and Santiago Harker, who had a sense of space, aesthetics and meanings and who stood out of the crowd.

During the last five years, I have gotten a better idea about what's happening with photography in Colombia. I feel that photographers, museums, schools, publishers and critics are on the correct path mainly because international photographers are coming to lecture and develop projects here (last year I assisted Bruce Gilden from Magnum in his Bogota's project); new festivals are being held (Fotomuseo, Festival Internacional de la Imagen, ArtBo, etc); students can apply for scholarships (Colfuturo and Estímulos Ministerio de Cultura); cameras and accessories are imported quickly (Fujifilm Colombia just launched their new X-T1 simultaneously here and in Tokyo); and Internet has brought immediate access to knowledge, editing programs and other references (webpages such as the Lens Blog of The New York Times, Fundación Pedro Meyer, MoMa, Tate Modern, etc).

© Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, "Child Eyes. Kenya" from ICIPE 2006-2008

These facts sound positive, however the overall art scene is doing much better in comparison and photography is still relegated to looking for sponsors and receiving benefits from public political entities.

And it is around this fact that we should have the debate: "Should photography in Colombia be more open to art, new technologies and authorship?" I think so.

I feel that photographers must make an effort to see photography less rigidly and more freely: to create new narratives which are not merely linear; to defend authorship; to have more dialogue and dynamism in the scene; to include others (the photographed) in the make-up of their images; to use mobile phones as allies to develop new projects; and to combine other skills, tools, thoughts, formats and references from other disciplines rather than being harnessed to a classical photography based mostly in the technical, obviousness and rationality.

The challenge is big, but there are many talented photographers such as Jorge Panchoaga and Federico Ríos from Colectivo +1, Federico PardoDaniel Santiago SalgueroÁlvaro CardonaEmilio AparicioAna AdarveGuillermo SantosMax Steve GrossmanManuel VázquezAngélica TeutaKarim EstefanCamilo RozoWilliam Fernando MartínezJuan Diego Cano and César David Martínez - to name some - who are combining photography with others disciplines, such as anthropology, sociology, politics, biology, journalism, architecture, literature and arts, which will increase the level of photography we are used to seeing in the country.

These guys are also seeing photography as a multi-tasking tool for education, research, exhibitions, publications, field work and commercial use.

© Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, "Aguas Vivas, Córboda" from COLOMBIA, tierra de Luz


© Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, "Pachamamas de luz - Tesoro Yuche" from COLOMBIA, tierra de luz

f: How do you feel that your own work, especially COLOMBIA, tierra de luz, fits into that landscape? Do you feel it is a project that fits into the type of increased openness to new modes of photography you're talking about here?

SEJ: I am confident that COLOMBIA, tierra de Luz, is a project which enriches our photography landscape. I feel that I have been taking risks by leaving my comfort zone to propose something different.

It occurs by combining photography, art, architecture and sociology to produce a series of symbolic acts of support for victims of violence and those who are displaced in different parts of Colombia.

As is well known, violence and forced displacement in Colombia have been two of the most worrying and most direct effects of the armed conflict for over five decades.

The selection of locations for the intervention reflects Colombia's rich variety of multicultural groups, regions, landscapes, climates, historical contexts, traditions and celebrations, geopolitics, as well as social problems and the different armed groups inside the country.

During the interventions (artistic actions, poetry workshops, music performances, celebrations and testimonials), villagers and indigenous people express their thoughts and emotions through words, gestures and singing while they help to construct and light up the sculptural objects and settings using electric light, lanterns, mobile devices, candles and bonfires.

In this sense, the documentary and interpretative photographs made of the interventions are indispensable as vehicles for memory and imagination for the children, teenagers and adults who participate in the actions. Thus the photographs made of light - through the process of capturing light by the camera - are considered as memorials when copies of them are given to each family to be hung in their houses.

© Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, "Pueblo Fantasma" from COLOMBIA, tierra de Luz

f: How does the way you are using photography in COLOMBIA, tierra de luz relate to how you've used it in the past? What have you discovered about the medium and its potential through this project in relation to your other work?

SEJ: Before beginning the project I was seeing scale as a relevant topic in my work. I felt I had had enough of my miniature figures (1:72 scale) [used in previous projects] and wanted to work on one-to-one models (urban and landscape interventions). This is why I designed, constructed and photographed Pueblo Fantasma (Ghost Town), consisting of thirty-six tents lit inside on the slope of a mountain in the city of Manizales.

After this successful intervention, I challenged myself to create COLOMBIA, tierra de luz. I wanted to structure it from an artistic point of view as well as a social one. I needed to make it clear that it was a real social action aiming to help people.

I knew I was taking risks.

First, because politicians, social workers and rural farm workers doesn't take artistic practices very seriously. Second, photographers, artists and critics usually think that arts shouldn't have a function, nor have a didactic result. I struggled to combine both artistic and social activist perspectives in a symbiotic and creative way.

I pushed hard to get images both successful aesthetically and charged with significance. I found in the effect of using light - tungsten, LED, torches, iPads, etc - to produce chiaroscuro a powerful symbol to get the desired sensuality to my images. This sensuality prompts memories, calls for reflection and captures the imagination. Photography depends on light to become matter. It is also light that lets architecture and spaces show themselves, show their textures and forms, with its heat. Through this, it is light that symbolically lifts us from gloom and lights our desires and therefore it is photography that captures a moment in these illuminated places, making the photographs [that document the event] a healing memorial. I also gave sincere respect to the victims of violence and forced displacement. Thus, I never created false expectations or went further in my requests.

© Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, "Ainküin - Maicao, Guajira" from COLOMBIA, tierra de luz

f: We'll go back to Pueblo Fantasma in a moment, but your response gives me one more question about COLOMBIA, tierra de luz. You talk about the project as being a social act and also about a general belief held by many that art isn't a vehicle for inducing social change or creating social action. What would you point to in terms of social effects produced by COLOMBIA, tierra de luz to someone who would argue art is a poor vehicle for social change or action?

SEJ: Partially, I agree with the doubt of the question. I do think that to give complete support to victims of violence, it is necessary to accompany the symbolical (artistic) act with other elements such as taking political action by issuing laws and decrees; making economic support visible through investment in infrastructure and livelihood; constructing housing projects; and promoting demonstrations of social responsibility by charities and NGOs.

Artistic and cultural expression - be it photography or other contemporary practice - can make a difference. Art and aesthetics have the capacity to generate transformations in emotions by activating conscience, building protests, bearing witness to moments, producing corporal sensations and perceiving changes which human action generates in individuals, territories and the landscape.

Photography, for instance, bears testimony to the present which we are living and is witness to problems of violence, inequality and damage to our environment. Photography is also a tool for proposing solutions, expressing opinions and imagining new realities. It is the reflection of the individual photographer, who seeks to become the collective conscience.

Finally, I want to share a personal experience I had when I was a child. My uncle was murdered by corrupt policemen close to his farm when he discovered drug traffic in the region. I was having nightmares afterwards and couldn't sleep properly. I remember being shot constantly by these guys in my dreams. After many months of this, I came up with a solution: I imagined myself protected from the bullets under a glass or ice helmet, and I could sleep properly after all. From that moment on, I trusted creativity as a powerful tool to change attitudes and stir emotions.

Basically, that was the main question which motivated me to develop COLOMBIA, tierra de luz: if this helped me, why not apply this idea to others?

© Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, "Green Lantern-Carmen de Apicalá, Tolima" from COLOMBIA, tierra de luz

f: A number of other Colombian artists including Diettes as well as foreigners working in Colombia, such as Stephen Ferry, have worked with witnessing violence as a theme as well. They have used quite different approaches from yours.

What projects beyond your own navigating the issue of Colombian violence have had an impact on you that you would recommend to readers? Is there an overlap between your work and the work of Diettes, Ferry or others in the treatment of the theme?

SEJ: I learned about Diettes' and Ferry's work when COLOMBIA, tierra de luz was already advanced. I find their work very touching. Erika's Sudarios is sensorial and spatial as she hangs portraits of women in pain inside churches [editor's note: see our review of Diettes' Sudarios here]. I see Ferry's Violentology much more about showing a historical reading of Colombia's violence by having photojournalists collaborate and by using news articles written by others.

However, before starting the project I was studying Libia Posada, Doris Salcedo, Beatriz González, Óscar Muñoz and Juan Manuel Echavarría's works – those I mentioned earlier. And I agree with writer and photographer Jose Falconi when he says: "this proliferation of memorials within the Colombian visual arts to the point of transforming itself into a tradition is a topic which, as far as I have seen, has not been dealt directly [sic] in academic writing, and which certainly constitutes an area for future exploration." [ed: an essay by Falconi on Escobar-Jaramillo's work can be found here]

During the last few years, there have been an increasing number of projects working on memory, symbolical acts of support and people's resistance. The [Colombian] Government peace talks with Las FARC occuring right now at La Havana are influencing institutions, universities and communities to develop new strategies for the post-conflict era.

A powerful project to follow is Jorge Panchoaga's La Casa Grande which is going one-step further in documenting and reflecting on Cauca's communities. He beautifully combines camera obscura techniques with an insight on families' struggle to keep their traditions, land and health under violent harassment. Libia Posada's Signos Cardinales, which has been presented widely, is a striking dialogue between artist and victim, body and drawing, memory and meaning. Or you can see Doris Salcedo's Plegaria Muda which confronts the audience with silence and loneliness, wood and grass. Also, the Centro de Memoria Histórica is collecting important information and documenting projects which use art to make things easier for victims of violence.

© Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, "Santa Rita" from COLOMBIA, tierra de luz

© Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, "El León Dormido, Obra Viva - Pasto, Nariño" from COLOMBIA, tierra de luz


© Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo, "Finca La Sombra, Magdalena" from COLOMBIA, tierra de luz