05 October 2015
05 October 2015 - Written by Luján Agusti
“The foundations for a new language and a new gaze, far from the clichés that for years have marked the region, are being settled.” The guest curator of Venezuelan Photography, offers his insights into the Latin American photography landscape.
Luis Cobelo was born in 1970. He is thechief editor of LAT Photo Magazine, an online publication dedicatedto showing contemporary documentary photography from Latin America.From 1993 to the present, he has participated in numerous exhibitionsand photography festivals worldwide, including Generation 2000,PhotoEspaña, Fotonoviembre, and Getxophoto. This month, he is guestcurator of the PMH exhibition, Venezuelan Photography. Here he talksabout his beginnings in photography, and offers his thoughts inrelation to the Latin American photography landscape.
From the series Queens by © Luis Cobelo
Tell us about your beginnings inphotography . . .
I started when I was 19 (I am now44), working for a small newspaper at the University of Zulia inVenezuela where I studied philosophy. My father had taught me to makepictures a few years ago and I did not know I would become aphotographer. At that time as a student I had to earn a living to payfor my studies, and so I began. Everything was in black and white, Ispent many hours in different laboratories; I made one in thebathroom of my home. After that I would work in two nationalnewspapers working on anything from sensationalism to weddings andcommunions. After a few years, I left Venezuela for Spain and becameindependent. I did many specific assigments for magazines in Spainand many parts of the world, but above all, the bulk of my work andwhere I feel most comfortable is when developing stories that comefrom personal ideas, and that may be isues I like of society or not.
In parallel to your work as aphotographer, you also work as an editor. How did you becomeinterested in this field?
I work as an editor on the LATPhoto Magazine project; but the selection of the work is done by theguest editors & curators, who accept the challenge of getting toknow what is currently being done in the Latin American region. I’mstill a photographer, I do not intend to become a curator; I ampassionate and studious about photography and especially of that donein Latin America. It is a big pleasure to promote the great work doneby some Latin American photographers.
You created LAT Photo Magazine,the online publication dedicated to Latin American photography. Tellus about the magazine and your motivations to develop it . . .
I came up with the idea ofcreating a magazine where only Latin American photographers talkingabout Latin American issues would be published. This idea came aboutas a consequence of something that happened to me. My work is focusedmainly in Latin America. While living in Spain, I continuouslytraveled to America to develop all my stories and I never didanything about Madrid, for example, that was my home at that time;where things happen and there are also stories. When I moved back toVenezuela after 10 years in Spain, initially I worked the other wayaround, and travelled to Europe to do my stories. So I said,“something is wrong”. It was then that I began to look around meand everything was in front of me. It was just to figure out what Ishould do. It was when I thought of making the magazine. LAT PhotoMagazine was created because of my need to tell photographers to workon themes realted to their enviroments that often go unnoticed. Thereis no need to go far away to find photographic documents. Still, wemust do them well.
Today, after eight issues, the magazinehas become a reference for what is happening today in the LatinAmerican photography industry. Along with other magazines thatalready existed, what we do is to contribute to the promotion andvisibility of photographers. And it is finally confirmed thatphotography experts all over the world are looking this side.
What are your thoughts on thecurrent Latin American photography landscape?
It is an extraordinary moment forLatin American photography. As I said before, the magazine is a goodthermometer to measure what is currently happening. There have been alot of discoveries. Many of the featured photographers in someeditions of the magazine are now a highlight in the photographyindustry. The foundations for a new language and a new gaze, far fromthe clichés that for years have marked the region, are beingsettled. However, I do not want this to be just a fad.
And talking in particular aboutVenezuelan photography?
In the last few years Venezuela’spolitical landscape has marked the look of photographers too. Veryfew have managed to take from all this chaos works that rationalizewithout divisions what is happening in the country. On one side thereare the projects that show the reality, raw and uncensored, directand somehow what you expect to see as the result of an uncontrollablecrisis: anarchy, crime, impunity, poverty and violence. Then thereare essays where the photographer also explores this crisis, buttransforms it into art and personal languages, leaving a unique mark,ceasing to be massive and therefore the message is much morepowerful. This is where the real future of the Venezuelan photographylies.
In what ways do you think thephotographers you have chosen refer to Venezuelan photography?
It is difficult to cover in fiveauthors what is currently happening with Venezuelan photography. Theselected authors work starting from an internal or external conflict.They are dissatisfied about something; uncomfortable. Their strategyas photographers is to analyze the underlying anger that is inserted,like an annoying virus, in the vast majority of the Venezuelanpopulation, photographing something that worries them, that disturbsthem; this is where thought and the intelligent protest arise.
What is the message you want togive your curatorship?
Reflection. An image or a set ofthem that forces you to reflect and analyze is much more powerfulthan a flat image where you only see what is in it and nothing else.
Talking again about your personalprojects. What are you currently working on?
I am producing different stories.On one side I am investigating the concepts of forgiveness and hatein the Colombian society in relation to the guerrilla. I also havesome work-in-progress projects in Cuba. In parallel, I amphotographing people over 30 that never had sexual relations in theirlives.