Friday, 15 June 2012

Book Review: The Latin American Photobook

The Latin American Photobook, Horacio Fernández (Aperture, 2011)

There is no history of Latin American photography that gives due attention to its books. 

This is the status quo that Horacio Fernández, together with an advisory committee composed of Marcelo Brodsky, Iatã Cannabrava, Lesley A. Martin, Martin Parr and Ramón Reverté, sets out to change and the result is this book. It's not just an academic tome - it's big, heavy, hard cover, well-laid out, and stuffed with colour photos. But it's not just a coffee table book either - each book featured is carefully described and the beginning of each section pulls the different books featured in it together.

All the photographers are Latin American by birth or choice, rather than travel photographers or visitors. There were some old friends for me among the books here, such as Carlos Domínguez's Los peruanos, and some others that I was surprised not to have heard of, such as Guillermo Thorndike's Uchuraccay: Testimonio de una masacre.

Both of the above publications are highly relevant to the subjects of this blog, as are others like Richard Cross' Nicaragua: La guerra de liberacion. Cross, a photojournalist, was killed shortly after its publication. "Photographers have to take the initiative to try to have more control over the use of their photographs and they have to get more interested in the potential for combining images to make stories and to combine images with text," he said. 

Other fascinating finds for me were Chile ayer hoy, produced by the official publishing wing of the Chilean government in 1975, and Mirko Lauer's Ciudad de Lima with photos by Jesús Ruiz Durand, because I had come across some of the latter's work on iconic photographs before.

It's very interesting to see the various photobooks juxtaposed alongside each other and given a new lease of life, as it were, in this book - although of course, there remains a certain sense of frustration that the original publications themselves are, in many cases, difficult or impossible to get hold of. Fernández et al have certainly made a great contribution to the photobook genre themselves with this one, which, I would think, Latin American photography enthusiasts will want to have laid out on a table somewhere - it looks too good to consign to a shelf.

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