Colombia is in a different state today than it was during the turbulent (and later glamorized) years in the 90s. Though while drug cartels may not have the same reach and influence, they still dominate much of what goes on in the country. For the rest of the world, most of what we see comes from Colombian photographers, risking their lives in pursuit of honesty and transparency.
In 2000, Baruch Jairo Vega, a Miami Beach fashion photographer, brokered the surrender of 114 Colombian cocaine traffickers to U.S. authorities. Seemingly a noble action, it turned out that Vega was playing both sides for fools.
Four years later, he was sentenced to four months in federal prison for failing to report money he made on the deals. Has a photographer ever so (almost) expertly played both sides before?
The Colombia that Vega would venture into isn’t the same as the one today. But photographers are still risking a lot whenever they enter the South American land. Here are a few Colombian photographers documenting the new status of the gateway to South America.
Jesus Abad Colorado
Jesus Abad Colorado is a Colombian photojournalist focused on human rights and armed conflict. In 2019, he was awarded Latin America’s top journalism prize, the Gabo award for journalistic excellence, for years documenting violence in Colombia.
“I understand journalism as memory, not the record of a single day. I see it as building the larger narrative of a country.”Jesus Abad Colorado
For his country, and even his hometown of Medellin, that meant years and years of war. Even after the infamous Pablo Escobar’s demise, Colombian cartels raged.
Still, for Colorado, now he is reacting to a slightly changed world in Colombia. And the question for him will be, where does his work take him next?
Joana Toro is a documentary photographer and art educator. She has created over half a dozen series of her photographs, one of them titled, “Colombia on My Mind.“
This series holds a collection of stunning photographs, with the brief description reading, “I was born in a country with an on-going civil war, just like my mother and grandmother. Colombia on My Mind is a personal journey that reflects how Colombians live and raise their families, and conduct their lives with this endless situation of corruption, impunity, pace processes and war in the background.
The interpretations of these images depend on the subjectivity of the viewer. For me as a Colombian, life in my country is a state of waiting, living every day in the middle of invisible boundaries that divide our country. The wonder of peace.”Joana Toro
For this Colombian photographer, beauty is seen everywhere. But often it is through the margins, through the depths of depravity that corruption conjures up.
Toro also shoots much of her photography in New York City.
This Colombian photographer is American, but finds much of his work bringing himself to Colombia. Self-described as a non-fiction photographer, Ferry seeks to cover what he sees in its purest essences.
His book, Violentology: A Manual of the Colombian Conflict, chronicles ten years of documentation and investigation into the armed conflicts in Colombia. It received the first Tim Hetherington Grant, awarded by World Press Photo and Human Rights Watch for long-term documentation of human rights issues.
Thus, while it is true that the armed conflicts in Colombia over the past decade are not as globally famous as the Narcos 90s and aughts were, they are clearly still ravaging the country. Dedicated photojournalists like Ferry deserve our solemn respect, admiration, and support.
Colombian photographers are essential to capturing the state of the nation
Corruption, armed conflict, destabilization in the gateway to South America. Hell, for those of us wise enough to admit it, America is the same damn way right now.
Colombian photographers are capturing a new nation in many respects. The 20s in Colombia will be largely remembered by the way these dedicated photographers capture it. Let us not forget that.