Colombian photographer Fernell Franco’s “Prostitutas,” from the series Prostitutas, 1970-72; gelatin silver print, from the collection of Leticia & Stanislas Poniatowski.
You no longer have to surf the web to see pictures from around the world; instead, they flood our social media streams and messaging apps, blurring the memorable with the inane. At the same time, a century of photographs of Latin America taken by camera-toting “Northerners” has created seemingly fixed images of an exotic South, which has also overshadowed the artistry of Latin American photographers.
The Matter of Photography in the Americas, on view at Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center through April 30, examines these visual conundrums through the lens of some 70 works by Latin American and U.S. Latino artists. Regional stereotypes such as an otherworldly lush landscape, sexually available women and the modern drug mule receive reinterpretation through often ingenious methods.
Colombia’s Oscar Muñoz—who is giving a talk on campus March 22—was a particular source of inspiration for the exhibition, notes Jodi Roberts, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Cantor. “He has created installations that undermine photography’s original goal of capturing or fixing an image,” she explains. In his 2006 silent video, Linea del destino, for example, Muñoz projects an image of his face in water on his hand and then lets it seep through his fingers. “By making these things impermanent again, you can get people to pay attention to images that would otherwise be swept aside in this great mass of images we constantly encounter,” Roberts says.
Roberts’ co-curator, Natalia Brizuela, an associate professor in the departments of Spanish & Portuguese and Film & Media at UC Berkeley, thinks the work of up-andcoming artist Jordi Minaya, a New Yorker with roots in the Dominican Republic, will also surprise viewers. “She has a full critique on the stereotypes around the female mulata body and nature, and how those have been stereotyped by digital images,” Brizuela says. For her 2016 installation “#dominicanwomengooglesearch,” Minaya enlarged online images of “seductive” Dominican women, mounted them on foam board backed with bright tropical fabric, and then disassembled them into an eerie montage of body parts. “It takes a while to realize what you’re seeing,” says Brizuela.
A section of the exhibition called “Data,” which focuses on the movement from analog to digital imagery, may have particular resonance for local viewers, Roberts adds. “You can’t help but think about Silicon Valley when talking about that shift in technology, and the massive impact it has on how we consume photographs, and their proliferation in every aspect of our lives, public and private.”
Originally published in the March/April issue of Silicon Valley