Jorge Panchoaga on La Casa Grande

Jorge Panchoaga talks to us through how he gets into photography, the developing and inspiration of his photographic project, La Casa Grande and how he sees photography in his homeland, Colombia.

Anthropologist and photographer. His photographic work keep a close relation with socio-cultural issues such as; identity, memory, language and cultural change within conflict and the relation between the human being with its enviroment. He has exhibited in different spaces in Colombia and many different publications. Jorge has been awarded IX Premio Nacional Colombo Suizo de Fotografía del Ministerio de Cultura, Sexto Salón De Arte Joven, III Premio Nacional de Fotografía del Patrimonio Cultural de la Nación del Ministerio de Cultura.

Currently, Panchoaga is an X-Photographer of Fujifilm and is an active member of Colectivo +1.

From the series La Casa Grande © Jorge Panchoaga

We know you studied anthropology, but tell us how you got into photography?

It started towards the end of my degree in anthropology when I decided to dedicate to photography. During that time, I had a job in a bar called, La Alacena (cupboard) in Popayán, it was the only rock bar in town. While working at the bar, I was able to save money to fix a camera I had at home, and then to be able to use it. After having read several handbooks about photography from home library collections and university, as well as making pizzas in Pizzarre, a family business we had with my brother and cousin, I finally took the decision to become a photographer; it was then when I started to look into how to make a career out of it.

It took quite a while after that realisation until I actually started to take photographs, because first I needed to write my thesis for my degree in anthropology, so I ended up writing a document of 234 pages, just imagine how long it took until I actually started taking photographs. After this, I went out to start my first photographic project, I didn’t know how to do it or what I needed to do, but experimenting, failing and making mistakes I managed to start to give shape to the project. In fact, my background in anthropology helped me in this process. I used what I knew in this field to develop my projects and bring them to live.

How did you develop your work, La Casa Grande?

While working on my thesis (2006) I collected a lot of information on indigenous Cauca. I come from an indigenous/peasant family background, and my interest about natives grew as I was developing my thesis about exchange, as a strategy of resistance to globalization policies implemented by the government, with the signing of free trade treaties. For my thesis, I had to do an extensive research about ethnohistory and review historical material, in which I found many key passages which then gave rise to develop La Casa Grande; so I used that understanding of Indian history, many years later, when I began to wonder and ask myself, who I would’ve been if I had grown up where my grandfather was born in Lame-Cauca?

Almost five years after starting my graduate thesis, I began to develop the photographic project, La Casa Grande, which by the way I haven’t finished yet; I am still in the process of answering questions that arose along the way, but now the attempt to solve those questions is by creating images, photos and other media.

From the series La Casa Grande © Jorge Panchoaga

Your project, Mensajes de Agua, is an extension of your project La Casa Grande. Will you continue working in the region of Cauca? Is it a region that interests you to continue shooting? Tell us a little bit about your interest in Cauca.

Mensajes de Agua (Messages of Water) is another chapter in this body of work. One of what I hope to develop six chapters. I see photography as literature, a photographer's work has similarities to the writer. Based on that, I am looking to develop long term projects and develop topics that I am interested in. That's why I have decided to divide the work into chapters.

Two years ago I walked away from this project in order to develop other projects. I was seeking to understand from a distance what I was building and specifically happening in that location. This year, I am taking up on developing the other chapters of this project in Cauca, and so I return to the area after a few weeks. Once again Cauca is the center stage of my work, first because my project is to reconstruct the steps of my grandfather in order to go back to the places where he was born, grew up and left his indigenous family, and secondly, because I am very interested in Cauca since it's what I think it represents an x-ray of all Colombia.

In here, all the historical conflicts, struggles, current challenges, disputes of land are concentrated; also, it hosts the births where major rivers are born in the country (Cauca, Magdalena, Caquetá, Patia). It is a complex place in all its dimensions, living diversity of indigenous populations and where various languages coexist.

With your project, La Casa Grande, what are you looking your audience to learn from this project?

La Casa Grande is an opinion. It's a way to resolve questions which have arisen to me throughout the years. With these questions I am not trying to be pretentious. I am interested in sharing with people the experience of making images and face topics which I find important. I have this perception that we are like historical, cultural and political symptoms, and so the questions that we ask ourselves while lying in bed, drinking coffee or walking it's a reflection of what society is like. For instance, their problems, concerns, and addictions. If we put enough attention to those questions and we look to answer them we will gain spirit and memories that have not been addressed by others. Under this understanding, my goal is to create history where people feel questioned in a certain way, whether it is with the concept that I look to transmit through my photographs.

What I am trying to say is that the times when La Casa Grande has been published or exhibited, this allows a space or channel between the reading of the image and what my project proposes as a code, for instance; resistance, land, everyday life, home, identity. Yet, where I see a referential code to the cartography and curves of the mountain, others might see different things to me, and to be honest that’s fine. This is what is wonderful about photography and the use of other languages, the referential universes are built culturally, but not all people and individuals build those universes in the exact same way. I think an image doesn’t necessarily need to be read in the way the author hopes or presents it, in fact it happens quite rarely. On the other hand, I don’t think an image should be inaccessible or incomprehensible to the audience , blocking a statement filled of complexities. It is in this relationship that we find the reading of an image, allowing the reader from different points to access the image. The same way we create images for who we are, readers read images for whom they are, with their background and imagination. I believe, La Casa Grande, can be seen and learned by each reader in their own way, and the invitation is to visit and to be part of the project from the moment you enter the project.

From the series La Casa Grande ©Jorge Panchoaga

How do you see photography in Colombia today?

Photography in Colombia is in a growing process even though there are difficulties. It is coexisting in a complex ecosystem where we are lacking opportunities: it is very small the amount of grants for research and creation; we need more spaces for the study and analysis of photography; we need to create solid circles in Colombia for exhibitions to promote the discussion, and also create cultural policies in relation to the realities of its creators. We are lacking all of this. The good thing is that we have a dedicated, ambitious and generous generation, who have contributed to the growth of this industry. Working with what we have to develop photographic projects. This generation is thinking beyond the construction of individual welfare and is working to build collaborations for the benefit of this community. In that sense, in the last couple of years many proposals about photography have arisen in the country, such as; online platforms, schools, collectives, publishing, editorial and different attempts to articulate within the local and global industry with the support that we receive from colleagues overseas, as it is for instance, Photographic Museum of Humanity, which allows us to be recognised, exchange, meet other photographers and to strengthen relationships in the industry of photography.

To see more of Jorge Panchoaga's work visit his PHMuseum profile.

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