Tuesday, September 6, 2011


This is what brought me back to El Salvador, the fifth installment of an annual “festival” of photojournalism, which has now grown to cover the CA4 countries (Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala) and Chiapas. I put “festival” in quotes because I have an idea of what a festival is that is somewhat different from this. In my view, a festival involves a range of activities, lots of participants. A photo festival involves several exhibits, panels, talks, workshops, etc. I’m not saying my idea is more correct, just that what I found when I got here wasn’t what I expected.

Basically, the festival has three activities. First: the competition that resulted in a publication of the one hundred “best” photojournalism images of 2010, as well as an exhibit of twenty representative images and a launch of all this in the Photo Café, the center run by the organization sponsoring all the activity. I was the “curator” or “jury” for this competition. I put this in quotation marks, because to my surprise the organization resisted quite a few of my choices. Fortunately, what they wanted instead was acceptable to me, and in only one case of the final hundred photographs did I have to insist on something. My list of twenty images to print for exhibit in the Photo Café was accepted without comment, but at the opening I noticed that at least one of the images was one that was not on my list, and which I don’t think is very strong. Still, we ended up being friends, reserving our disagreements.

The second activity is the workshop. This is a two-week long activity for professional photographers only. It started last night, Monday. It has to be conducted at night, since the participants are all working photographers and aren’t free during the day. The first session seemed quite good—we’re trying to define the projects of each of the participants. The goal of the organizers, which is a terrific one and fits my interests very closely, is to help these photographers see beyond the limits that working photojournalism tends to impose, to be able to think more broadly, and to have a more scoail. Political view of what they’re doing. I’m working a lot on getting them to think about WHY they are talking pictures, and what kind of work would satisfy their own broader goals.

Finally, this Friday I will be giving a major talk at the Universidad de El Salvador on the politics of visual communications. Should be interesting….

And then later on, probably in November, some of my work from Colombia will be exhibited at the Photo Café, but that’s not really part of the festival.

The group that’s sponsoring all this is a small foundation, an interdisciplinary group that’s trying to promote a more socially engaged, political vision of the possibilities of photography. Not surprisingly, this puts them in conflict with the organizations that have more resources and more powerful contacts. There’s an annual photography festival here in September, sponsored in part, and certainly given a big impulse, by the cultural structure of the Spanish embassy. There are similar festivals in other countries. It turns out that they are not interested in incorporating documentary photography. That sounds familiar—are they taking a lead from the US photo art world?

The Photo Café is a house that’s been converted into a combined coffee house and exhibit space, with a little auditorium where we’re conducting the workshop—and workshops are a major theme for them; they sponsor three or four a year—which serves both as a gathering place and as a source of some income to support their work.

I’m happy to be working with the group; one of my next steps will be to digitize some of my files from our work here in the 80s and 90s, to contribute to the historical archive they are creating.

So far, no pictures of those activities—I’ve had a few promises, but we know about those…

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