A-MOR by Cristobal Olivares

Women keep dying because they are women. They are killed by men; it’s a global pandemic. Alejandro Acín reviews Cristobal Olivares' new book about femicides.

Image from the book A-MOR by © Cristóbal Olivares

Femicide or feminicide is a sex-based hate crime term, broadly defined as the killing of women but definitions vary depending on the cultural context. Diana E. H. Russell is one of the early pioneers of the term, and she currently defines the word as "the killing of females by males because they are females". "Femicide is on the extreme end of a continuum of antifemale terror that includes a wide variety of verbal and physical abuse, such as rape, torture, sexual slavery (particularly in prostitution), incestuous and extrafamilial child sexual abuse, physical and emotional battery, sexual harassment (on the phone, in the streets, at the office, and in the classroom), genital mutilation (clitoridectomies, excision, infibulations), unnecessary gynecological operations (gratuitous hysterectomies), forced heterosexuality, forced sterilization, forced motherhood (by criminalizing contraception and abortion), psychosurgery, denial of food to women in some cultures, cosmetic surgery, and other mutilations in the name of beautification. Whenever these forms of terrorism result in death, they become femicides."

Image from the book A-MOR by © Cristóbal Olivares

The weaknesses of national prevention systems, lack of proper risk assessment and the scarcity or poor quality of data are major barriers in preventing gender-related killing of women and developing meaningful prevention strategies. These weaknesses result in misidentification, concealment and underreporting of gender-motivated killings thus perpetuating impunity for such killings.

Feminicide is a crime of state. But most of the Governments around the world still refuse to acknowledge it.

Women keep dying because they are women. They are killed by men; it’s a global pandemic. I would lie if I say I am completely exempt of responsibility about this issue. We all are responsible. As a man, I am trying my best to identify which are my privileges over women, and my responsibility is to fight against them. But it’s hard, my male condition will never let me be exempt of this responsibility which has been built during years and years of patriarchal systems of power and the legal impunity of the murders.

The other day, I was following a debate on facebook between photojournalists, ex-photojournalists, artists… about each of their roles. On one hand, photojournalists were defending the need of being in the ‘’battlefield’’ and produce images that could ‘’inform’’ or even trigger a ‘’change’’. On the other hand, people said that ‘’photojournalists should be aware of their limitations and assume that it’s impossible to change anything only by making images’’ ‘’that the role of photojournalist should be criticised and discussed by themselves more often’’. ‘’This is also happening in the art world’’ […] ‘’either journalists or artists aren’t generators of any short of change’’, an artist said. An ex-photojournalist said: ‘’To be a journalist you should also be an activist’’ I won’t go into the details of the debate (which is not a new one) as this is not the purpose of the review but I would like to throw a few questions that came after reading some of these comments. Why do we continue producing the same short of narratives if we know they are not effective? Which are the contexts where protest/denouncing works could have a bigger impact?

Image from the book A-MOR by © Cristóbal Olivares

A-MOR is a book about feminicide in Chile by the photographer Cristóbal Olivares under his new publishing project entitled Buen Lugar.

A-MOR is presented with a black hard cover where all the victim names (only first names) are embossed; is it a memorial book? Maybe?
Despite the similarities, each of them has a specific horror story.

The book starts with a dress hanging from the wall, a curtain detail and a wall with white hand-marks. Clearly placed as symbols of nostalgia and injustice. ‘’Poor images’’ created by the State and Media (TV sceenshots, news…) and appropriated by Cristobal are intercalated to break up the images of the criminal places which Cristobal photographed. So is it a protest book? Maybe?

He uses a great variety of visual content to tell this story: details of personal belongings, family pictures, weapons, newspaper cuttings, letters, removal of the body official inform. Everything is assembled together as a collective narrative. Cristobal’s point of view comes after all these experiences are gone, because the person is dead. The images made by Cristobal, most of which are empty landscapes or details, tend to be quite beautiful which makes me feel a bit uneasy: an empty swing, a single hanger in a wardrobe or the juxtaposition of blue and pink pictures... These images have not the same power than the screenshots from the TV news, which are raw, glitched, noisy… But a book made just with these images won’t be effective to build the story that Cristobal wants to present us.

Cristobal also includes six more points of view in this book. Nataly, an activist; Alberto, family of a victim; Mabel, a forensic photographer; Monica, mother of a victim and a policeman called Hernan. I’d have personally included them at the end or as a separate booklet with the English translations perhaps because they are powerful personal experiences (where some of the most horrible events are described in detail) compared to Cristobal’s approach of the aftermath. But I do think these texts are important.

A-MOR has been smartly produced in an edition of 500. A book made to discuss a reality not only formed by official numbers.

I do respect Cristobal’s work, I would like to see more men embracing this issue because we are the main cause of the problem here. To learn more about Cristobal Olivares, visit his PHmuseum profile


Alejandro Acin is director of IC-Visual Lab, an organization based in Bristol (UK) that aims to promote and produce contemporary photography through a series of events and commissioned projects. IC-Visual Lab co-organises Photobook Bristol, a festival for photobooks in Bristol.

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