Exhibition Review: Latin American Foto Festival
By Yotam Ponte
Roughly fifty people from all over New York City stand together in the cramped hallway of the Immaculate Conception School in the Bronx’s Melrose neighborhood. Following paper signs on walls and chalk arrows drawn on the sidewalk, these people walk in a loose group throughout the neighborhood, stopping in various locations to view the photography of Latin-American artists.
In New York’s first Latin-American Foto Festival hosted by the Bronx Documentary Center (BDC), photographers from all over Latin-America are exhibiting their work—attempting to show life as it exists in their countries. The exhibit is embedded within the Melrose neighborhood with a walkthrough tour consisting of eight locations—beginning in the BDC, continuing in the community garden, and through the Immaculate Conception School and church.
Divided by country, the exhibit features photography from Peru, Puerto Rico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico, and Ecuador, and portrays the multitudes of different experiences of living in each of those countries.
One of the exhibits seen in the walking tour is Misha Vallejo’s images of the Kichwa community of Sarayaku, who live in the Ecuadorian rainforest and believe that everything in the jungle is a living spirit. Vallejo captures their everyday struggles, experiences, and their connection with the forest. A photograph of a woman standing in light snow wearing only a t-shirt and another of a girl holding the severed head of an animal help envision the lives of the people in this community and the struggles they endure daily. Another photo shows the dark silhouette of a man standing on a boat on the river in the middle of the forest. The photograph is blurred and with only the person’s outline being captured, the focus is placed on the green forest surrounding him rather than the man himself.
In another section of the exhibition, Nancy McGirr showcases the photography done by her “Fotokids,” her young photography students in Guatemala. These kids provide us with a unique lens and perspective into their own lives as children living in Guatemala. The photographs range from colorful shots of food stands and amusement parks, to parents doing chores. One photograph of a woman, presumably an older sister, shows her wearing a colorful ball gown inside a dark and cluttered home. Another one captures a presumed parental figure as she sits on the ground of her home cooking.
A slideshow as well as photographs by photographer Carlos Villalon documents the war on drugs in Colombia. The exhibit shows everything from the harvest of the coca plant to people snorting lines of cocaine. It also shows the effects of the war on the people who live in Colombia with photographs of dead children and injured individuals. In contrast, there are also photographs of people going about their daily lives and doing the things they would typically do, proving that life continues even in war.
In a predominantly Latino neighborhood, the BDC exhibition, founded by Michael Kamber, considers photographers featured at the exhibit a part of their own community. Given that in immigrant communities it is an intimidating and foreign concept to go to art galleries, the BDC attempts to bring relevant photography and art to people by making their exhibit a part of the neighborhood with the goal “to share photography, film, and new media with underserved Bronx communities and the cultural community at large.”
The exhibit, curated by Michael Kamber and Cynthia Rivera is ongoing until July 22, 2018, beginning at the Bronx Documentary Center on 614 Courtlandt Ave. Bronx, NY, and continuing throughout the Melrose neighborhood.
For more information please visit Bronx Documentary Center.