Sunday, 15 March 2009

Photography and Memory (1): Carlos "Chino" Dominguez

This is the first in what I hope to be a series of posts on photographers whose work is concerned with issues of memory in Latin America. One could argue all photography is 'about' remembering, in that photographs show us images from the past and are so often used as part of memory work. I'm interested principally in photographic images that are more explicitly concerned with political violence in twentieth-century Latin American and its aftermath. Some of the photographers featured will lean more to the 'arty' side, others to the field of 'photojournalism'.

Carlos Dominguez, known as "Chino", is a veteran of Peruvian photojournalism and has been working as a photographer for over sixty years. That's why he kicks off this series, even though there are other photographers who are better known for photographing the internal conflict - because his career spans some of the most turbulent periods in recent Peruvian history.

Considering himself 'a photographer of the left', he captured poets and members of the intellectual elite, social movements, and ordinary people. One of his well-known images is that of the 'Gran Paro' (1977), the great strike, which you can see in this slide-show.

Dominguez has a deep interest in the promotion of photography in Peru. In Youtube video below, he expresses a wish for Peru to have a museum of photography and is concerned that valuable work from provincial photographers may be irretrievably lost (around 2:30 of the 8 minutes clip):

Significant for this blog is his image of an Andean woman holding a small photograph of a missing relative, a 'disappeared' person (approx 1985):

There are many photographs of relatives protesting the disappearance of their loved ones, from many different countries, but this woman's clothes and hat clearly identify her as highland Peruvian. Her hands, made large by the camera angle, are simultaneously cradling her breastfeeding child and displaying the photo, in the format familiar to us all from passports and identity documents. It may have been the only image she possessed of her relative (husband, father, brother?). She looks right at the camera, demanding a response. This is a compassionate image, highlighting both the grief and the strength of the mother.

Recently, Dominguez, who is now in poor health, donated his entire archive of 1,000,000 negatives to the Universidad Alas Peruanas, stressing how important it was to him that the collection be kept together and not split up. What an important historical record this is for the Peruvian nation.

More on Dominguez:

Memorias del ojo - article from La Republica

"El Chino" Carlos Dominguez - tribute site put together by students of the digital journalism course at the PUCP (Catholic University) in Lima

Publications: Los Peruanos, first pubd 1989. There is a second edition but I have been unable to find a source where it can be bought online. There is a copy in the Peruvian National Library for anyone there.

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