A-MOR: Femicide Stories in Chile
Femicide is a term used to signify “the killing of a woman” in relation to conflicts of gender. In his photobook, A-MOR, Cristóbal Olivares uses a combination of appropriated imagery and his own photographs to reconstruct the stories of victims in Chile.
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". She continues "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 sterilisation, forced motherhood (by criminalising 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."
The weaknesses of national prevention systems, the lack of proper risk assessment, and the scarcity, or poor quality of, data are major barriers in preventing the 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 be lying if I said I am completely exempt of responsibility of 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, and artists about each of their roles. On one hand, photojournalists were defending the need to be 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 a photojournalist should be criticised and discussed by themselves more often." "This is also happening in the art world" [...] "neither journalists nor artists are generators of any short of change", an artist said. An ex-photojournalist added: "To be a journalist you should also be an activist." So why do we continue producing the same sort of narratives if we know they are not effective? What are the contexts where protest/denouncing works could have a bigger impact?
A-MOR is a book about femicide in Chile by photographer, Cristóbal Olivares under his new publishing project entitled Buen Lugar. It comes with a black hard cover upon which all the victim's 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, all clearly placed as symbols of nostalgia and injustice. "Poor images" created by the state and media (TV sceenshots...) appropriated by Cristóbal are intercalated to break up the images of the criminal places that he 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, and letters. Everything is assembled together as a collective narrative. Cristóbal’s point of view comes after all of these experiences are gone, because the person is dead. The images made by Cristóbal, 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 do not have the same power as the screenshots from the news, which are raw, glitched, and noisy... But a book made just with these images won’t be effective to build the story that Cristóbal wants to present to us.
Cristóbal also includes more points of view in this book. Nataly, an activist; Alberto, a family member of a victim; Mabel, a forensic photographer; Monica, a mother of a victim; and Hernan, a policeman. 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 Cristóbal’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 Cristóbal’s work: I would like to see more men embracing this issue because we are the main cause of the problem here.
A-MOR by Cristóbal Olivares
Photographs: Cristóbal Olivares // Editorial Design: Aribel González // Text: Jorge Rojas // Publisher: Buen Lugar
24 x 17 cm // 164 pages // Edition of 500 // Hard cover // $20
Cristóbal Olivares is a documentary photographer with special interest in social affairs. He is the Co-founder of Buen Lugar Ediciones.
Alejandro Acin is the director of IC-Visual Lab, an organisation based in Bristol (UK) that aims to promote and produce contemporary photography through a series of events and commissioned projects. IC-Visual Lab organises Photobook Bristol, an international festival for photobooks. He also works as a designer and editor at ICVL Studio.