Story of the Photo: Faces of Colombia

Monday, September 30, 2013

portrait of paramilitary solider in colombia

Years ago I found myself in Medellin, Colombia, drinking coffee from a little plastic cup in one of the main town squares, Parque Bolivar. Looking around, I was fascinated by the characters I saw. There were musicians and photographers hustling for a buck, eyes-down nuns heading for the cathedral, businessmen, prostitutes, street kids, pool sharks, families and children. I wanted a way to explore all of this with my camera, but I didn't think snapping people as they walked through the park would be very interesting.

I mulled it over for a few days, and decided to do a portrait series. About a block from the park I found an open air parking lot where they let me rent a spot to hang a background. Then it was just a matter of convincing people in a violent country to walk down a side street with a complete stranger!  (Surprisingly, it wasn't hard. I think my white skin and gringo accent really came in handy in this case).

From that town square in Medellin, the project grew to encompass the entire country. I dragged my (increasingly dirty) white backdrop to different cities, up jungle rivers, into the mountains and behind the walls of the Presidential Palace. The photos above are two of my favorite from the project.

The kid on the right I met at the beginning of the project, while I was still working in Medellin. He was one of many street kids spending time around the park and I frankly wasn't that interested in him photographically. I started taking some photos of him because he asked and I didn't want to hurt his feelings. Then he started talking about how he had survived a massacre by the Colombian paramilitary in his home village. He had been shot multiple times and left for dead, and pulled up his shirt to show me his surgery scars and a bullet lodged just under his skin near his right nipple.

The guy on the left was a very scary character, a paramiltary solider with murder in his eyes. I photographed him at a demobilization ceremony outside of Valledupar. Some paramilitary units were handing over their weapons in return for amnesty and a government stipend, giving me an opportunity to photograph these guys in relatively safe surroundings. I liked the juxtaposition of these two images, even if it is a bit obvious. To see more images from this project, head over to the projects section of my website.

Posted by Dennis on 09/30 at 09:33 PM