If you’re in Bogota between now and February 2016, you really have no excuse not to invest at least 30 or 40 minutes of your time with Hernán Díaz: Retratos, Sesiones y hojas de contacto, an exhibit of the works by one of Colombia’s pre-eminent portrait photographers of the second half of the 20th century, at the Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango in the colonial Candelabra district.
If you’ve never heard of him, you’re not alone. That was part of the exhibit’s intrigue, according to the exhibit’s curator, Santiago Ruedo.
“He was a great artist who had the courage to venture through the camera lens in a country that has almost never valued this work,” Rueda said in an interview with Vice Colombia.
Diaz, who died in 2009 at 78, studied in the U.S. in the early 1950s. His work briefly appeared in Time and Life magazines and The Christian Science Monitor stateside and in the magazines Chromos, Credencial and Semana in Colombia. It was mostly photojournalism in the strictest sense, Rueda said, which he quickly grew to dislike.
Colombia was suffering through ‘La Violencia’, a ten-year civil conflict that cost more than 200,000 lives. “He couldn’t stand covering stories about the violence in Colombia where he had to photograph beheaded people,” Rueda said. So he gradually shifted his focus to the arts.
The 80 selected works, culled from 1,000 that the Banco de la República, or Central Bank, purchased in 2012, are heavy on Diaz’s portrait work, but also includes some industrial images, landscapes, and documentary and street work from the Cartagena of the late 1950s and early 1960s to where Diaz relocated for a time to escape the La Violencia.
– A selection of shots from that stay on the Caribbean coast that resulted in his book, Cartagena Moreno, documenting the area’s Afro-Caribbean community well before it became the gentrified city it is today; and
– the portraits of writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez and painter/sculptor Fernando Botero in their younger years which reminded me that I’m not so young anymore.
Collectively, it’s an enlightening photographic journey to Colombian cultural life of the 1960s and 1970s, one very few outside of the country are aware of.
I always appreciate any photographic exhibit’s inclusion of contact sheets which often can reveal poignant insights into a photographer’s selection and editing process. As the exhibit’s title suggests, they’re prevalent here as well, forming what Rueda calls the heart of the exhibit.
I have to agree with him. I spent more time studying some of the contacts than I did the selected images. They tell a whole ‘nother story that one image simply can’t. And I came wanting to see and learn stories.
Fourteen more images from the exhibit below; I processed most in black and white to try to be true to the originals. And my apologies for some of the reflections. I really did try to stay out of the pictures.
And a few more
And below, a video presentation of the exhibit produced by chief sponsor, Banco de la República. (Spanish)
Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango
Cl. 11 #4-14,
Admission is free