On Contemporary Latin American Photobooks, by Rodrigo Orrantia

Last year I was pleasantly surprised to find a growing presence of Latin American photobooks and photobook publishers at the book section of Paris Photo and its neighbour book fair, Offprint. It was about time the European photobook scene got interested in books and artists from Latin America, as it is a great opportunity to engage with such a vast continent and all its complexity and contradictions.

I set myself the task to write a short introduction and recommendation to some of the Latin American photobooks I deem essential or interesting, and are currently available on bookstores and photo fairs in Europe. The list, by no means complete or exhaustive, was compiled during last year, wondering around the photobook sections of fairs and festivals.

A necessary start is Horacio Fernandez’ The Latin American Photobook. It is a really well researched and edited compilation, with the distinctive stamp of art director and photobook expert Ramón Reverté. It is mainly focused at photobooks published during the second half of the 20th century, only dealing very superficially with contemporary production. Still, it is a seminal publication, as it provides a very solid understanding of the political and social contexts behind contemporary Latin American photography and photobooks.

One thing I continuously look for in contemporary Latin American photography, and especially in photobooks is a Genius Loci; an elusive spirit of place which is summoned by experience, action and especially by memory. With this interest in mind –a longing, perhaps, for my own Latin American roots- I set out on a journey across mountains of photobooks, a sight that’s becoming commonplace in photo fairs and festivals.

One of my most recent finds was Alejandro Cartagena’s Carpoolers. It is a brilliant take on the no man’s land between México and the US, where thousands of travelling workers spend their days on the bed of a pickup truck back and forth to long days of manual work. There is a string of humour in the way he portrays these migrant workers, as sense of absurdity, but also of respect and admiration. It is a true testament to lives spent on the go and the resilience of his particular sitters.

I saw Cartagena’s book in Paris Photo, at the stand of a young publishing house, Estudio Madalena, from Brazil. It was very interesting to find them in Paris and it was very encouraging to find that they were doing very well. Thinking about the spirit of place, Estudio Madalena launched Claudia Jaguaribe’s latest publication –the second on a series about São Paulo- entitled Entrevistas. Both books, Sobre São Paulo and Entrevistas, make for an in-depth visual study of life in one of the most densely populated cities in the world. It is a very rigorous and heartfelt account of life stories, seen from both the outside and also the inside of São Paulo’s distinctive architecture.

Jumping to the far south of Latin America, last year I found Argentinian artist Marcelo Brodsky’s Tiempo de Arbol (Tree Time). This small book was perhaps one of my best finds of the year. It is a very heartfelt confluence of place and memory. Through it pages we follow Brodsky’s stream of consciousness, a journey between current observations and memory, dealing with the violent years of the Argentinian dictatorship and the loss of family and friends to the regime.

Another book that caught my attention was Argentinian photographer Alejandro Chaskielberg’s La Creciente, launched in 2013 but only now getting the exposure it deserves. This is a book that also deals with the spirit of place, in this instance his native Argentina. The mysterious moonlit images, and the particular use of colour and selective depth of field make Chaskielberg’s work easily recognisable. I suggest you keep an eye on him, as his latest book Otsuchi Memories just won the RM5 Iberico-American Photobook contest juried by Horacio Fernandez, Martin Parr and Alec Soth amongst other luminaries.

This is a very exciting moment for photography and photobooks, and I am excited to see what will come next from artists and publishing houses from Latin America. It is still a very timid approach in Europe, but a strong start for an ambitious future.

Rodrigo Orrantia is an art historian and photography curator based in London. He currently works as photography curator and consultant for Lucid-ly, an international art photography consultancy working with artists, private collectors and public institutions in the development of art photography projects, exhibitions and publications. He is currently part of the board of curators at Sala Brasil and Gallery 32 for the Brazilian Embassy in London.



Latin American Photobooks