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5 photographers in Colombia capturing the terror of police brutality

What is happening between protestors and the police in Colombia right now?

Chaos and violence have escalated in the country since the end of April this year. Multiple lives have been sacrificed in the ongoing protests against President Iván Duque Márquez’s proposals on increased taxes and health care reform.

During the conflicts between the government and the protestors, people died, went missing, were injured, or arrested.

colombia police
PHOTO CRED: Fernando Vergara. Image via: Vergara/AP.

As the crisis intensifies, not only the nation but also the world has witnessed the police’s unsympathetic and inhumane approach to suppress the protesters.

In these heated moments, there are photographers who walk among the protestors or move on their own to document what has been happening in this country in recent decades. Through the photographers’ images, we see the police’s excessive force and the violations of human rights from the past to the present.

Andres Cardona

Colombian photographer Andres Cardona‘s images carry a lot of sentiments: sadness, anger, pain, despair, fear, bravery, etc. Blood on the faces, the burning fire, and the flying smoke in the protests demonstrate moments of horror, death, and destruction.

In Cardona’s works, there are not that many images of direct conflicts between the police and the protestors; Instead, a lot of them contain the (close-up) facial expressions of citizens or protestors. However, there is this power in Cardona’s images. It’s like time can be paused. And memories can preserve in the flick of vulnerability.

“Cardona’s work is an exercise in memory. From Colombia’s armed conflict to the traditions of indigenous communities or the deforestation of the Amazon, his images document the present while hoping to make sense of the past.”

Clara Hernanz Lizarraga, 1854 Photography.

Luis Robayo

Originally form Cúcuta, Colombia, Luis Robayo is an AFP (Agence France-Presse) correspondent and a Simón Bolívar prize awardee. Robayo is known for his dedicated documentation of armed conflict within the Colombian indigenous community.

Robayo is one of the photojournalists who has been capturing the tax reform protest in Colombia since late April. Although his works often cover heavy social topics, the colors of his visuals are surprisingly saturated.

Unlike Cardona, police brutality is more explicitly featured in Robayo’s photos in Colombia. Images such as the desolate and scarred cityscape and the wounded bodies are important components in his narrative.

Joaquín Sarmiento

Based in Medellin, Colombia, Joaquín Sarmiento is another AFP photographer.

When people look at Sarmiento’s works, they can quickly distinguish his images from those of the others. One unique characteristic in Sarmiento’s image is his emphasis on the human occupancy and activities in space.

There are great dynamics and stories within his photos. Although many people are featured within the same frame, nobody is looking straight at the camera.

People are just minding their own businesses: protesting, marching, even playing music in the chaotic environment, etc. Sarmiento’s sophisticated capturing of these natural human behaviors and postures is what makes his photographic expression so genuine.

colombia police
PHOTO CRED: Joaquín Sarmiento. Image via The Guardian.

 Ignas Karvelis

 Ignas Karvelis
PHOTO CRED: Ignas Karvelis. Image via Latin America Reports.

As an independent documentary photographer based in Bogotá, Colombia, Ignas Karvelis has already started documenting police brutality back in 2019.

Back at the time, Karvelis captured students’ and teachers’ protests against a corruption scandal in the Colombian capital and the police’s violent response to the protests.

In this event, student activists were surrounded by riot police who attacked them with tear gas in one of the Universidad Distrital’s buildings. Karvelis quickly seized the moments and reinterpreted the tension between the two parties through his photos.

Ignas Karvelis
PHOTO CRED: Ignas Karvelis. Image via Latin America Reports.

Juan Barreto 

Barreto is skillful at catching the moments of confrontations between the protestors and the police. As viewers, we immediately feel the intensity and dynamics of the events in his images.

Barreto’s images portray riot police in a very interesting manner. Although the police stand for absolute authority and control in Colombia, they fail to fulfill their responsibilities.

Instead of protecting the people from getting hurt, they are the ones executing harm. The police are supposed to be ‘stand-up’ like their stances. But they fail this too. Rather than provide justice and security, the police cultivate terror.

The police in Colombia are only exacerbating preexisting problems

It’s been a month since the tax reform protest happened in Colombia. Yet, the government of President Iván Duque Márquez still hasn’t given the public a satisfying solution to the current crisis.

People are dying and missing in the everyday conflict. Nowhere is safe.

The protests did not just happen overnight, political tensions have been existing in the nation for decades. The country’s tax reform proposal, police brutality, and the government’s inept handling of the COVID-19 pandemic recently simply exacerbated the situation and precipitated the train of events.

However, more and more people have also come to realize the severity of the current event. Unions, college students, social organizations, celebrities, and public figures have joined hands-on social media to raise awareness of what is happening in Colombia. The UN, too, urges Colombia’s government to protect the rights of protesters.

For people of Colombia, there’s still a long way to go..