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13 October 2020

Covid Stories from a Community of Latin American Female Photographers

13 October 2020 - Written by Giuseppe Oliverio

In this interview, Foto Feminas' founder Veronica Sanchis Bencomo talks to us about their latest project where members have been documenting their life and that of their communities during the pandemic.

© Saraí Ojeda

Foto Féminas is an online resource for promoting Latin American and Caribbean women photographers who recently presented Historias Covid-19 where Photographers from different nations visualized what COVID-19 is like both in the continent and in the cities of their own diaspora, such as London or Barcelona. The themes and approaches of each photographer vary according to the voices, however, a sense of self-reflection seems to always be present in the images and stories. We went discussing with the project founder Veronica Sanchis Bencomo to learn more.

How Veronica! How are you and how did the Covid 19 project started?

At the beginning of the pandemic Solange Adum Abdala, a Foto Féminas’ photographers, wrote me from Peru suggesting to coordinate a collective project of some kind. This conversation planted a seed in my mind. From the end of March 2020 I began an Instagram takeover with all the photographers who wished to share images that were addressing Covid-19 from many possible angles. A few weeks later, as the virus spread worldwide, I decided to continue this organic visual conversation.

Later on, in May, I really felt the urge to expand these stories into an online format other than Instagram. I thought I could look into creating a physical space to exhibit all the images, yet the more I thought about it the more I felt that an online environment would have been the most proper one, especially considering its accessibility during lockdowns. This is how I started working to a dedicated website for Historias Covid-19.

How did you select the projects and what characterises them?

All the contributing photographers had been published in Foto Féminas before, so the selection of photographers started long before the pandemic had even started. The process was very organic, to be honest. I reached out via e-mail to all photographers, and invited them to contribute with an image or more. The only restriction was that the photographs had to address Covid. Initially, I had thought to create a conversation between photographers pairing the received photographers. Since the pandemic was evolving so rapidly in every corner of the planet though, I preferred to share different images from different places without a given order.

© Marcela Bruna

What caught your attention or touched your heart the most?

We are a community of over 70 photographers, from different countries and backgrounds. However, I felt that a lot of our challenges in this pandemic were fairly similar. Borders were closed. We were all living our first lockdown, not seeing elder family members. We were keeping children at home for long periods, facing the psychological challenges of this situation. All these stories definitely moved me in many different ways and invited me to reflect upon my own life. However, there is one in particular that left me static and thoughtful. It's Wara Vargas Lara's project Cuarentena en la Oscuridad / Quarantine In The Darkness on blind people in La Paz, Bolivia.

When I read her statement, I realised that I hadn’t thought how challenging this virus would impact communities with physical limitations, especially those who don’t have family members or communities that support them. I truly respect Wara for giving her time and dedication to provide a voice and eyes to these people and their community.

Which were the effect of the pandemic on Latin America and its photographic community?

Latin America was among the latest continent affected by the virus' waves. The world could see how it was gradually moving towards West and then eventually making it to the region. Some countries took more drastic measures from the start, like my native Venezuela, where the country has practically been under lockdown for months. At the same time other neighboring countries like Brazil took more relaxed measures, which resulted into a tremendous negative impact for their people.

In terms of photography, I have seen a lot of communities and collectives coming together in order to produce collaborative projects like Ruda Colectiva, Ayun Fotógrafas, and Covid Latam, among others. I personally think these are great initiatives since the Covid-19 is a reality that has affected us all, regardless of background or career level. We definitely need a diversity of visions to better understand our own realities. I think the pandemic has shown us how entangled we all actually are despite our geographical distance.

© Gabo Caruso

Social Media and online platforms have been the prominent way of communication during lockdown. How was your experience and that of Foto Féminas photographers?

The pandemic has brought our community closer in many ways. For instance, while working on the Instagram open call, I created a WhatsApp group where we were able to share more content like articles and opportunities. I further organized Instagram live talks to engage with the photographers and our audience, something that I consider one of our most beautiful outcomes in these months. We have learned so much from each other experiences as photographers, women and mothers. To the date, we have had 28 talks that have opened up new conversations among the photographers as well as with Foto Feminas’ followers.

In terms of the impact on photographers, I think it has invited photographers to think and interpret space in other ways. For instance, if you look at the images of Ecuadorian photographer Isadora Romero you see how she raises the question of territory during quarantine, combining her own imagery, Google Street images and Nasa’s visual archive. Another example is that of Brazilian photographer Fernanda Frazão who took a series of portraits of her friends while in Finland through FaceTime.

Is Historias Covid-19 still open for submissions and do you have any plans of making a book or a show out of it?

Yes, it remains open. I think the pandemic is something that is still evolving, or perhaps I should describe it as something unresolved. I definitely look to exhibit it physically somewhere next year.

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A selection of images from Historias Covid-19. See all the full stories at historias-covid19.com

© Koral Carballo

© Andrea Hernández Briceño

© Fernanda Frazao

© Anita Pouchard Serra

© Wara Vargas Lara

© Lena Szankay


Written by

Giuseppe Oliverio

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