Luis Cobelo on Venezuelan Photography

“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 the chief editor of LAT Photo Magazine, an online publication dedicated to showing contemporary documentary photography from Latin America. From 1993 to the present, he has participated in numerous exhibitions and photography festivals worldwide, including Generation 2000, PhotoEspaña, Fotonoviembre, and Getxophoto. This month, he is guest curator of the PMH exhibition, Venezuelan Photography. Here he talks about his beginnings in photography, and offers his thoughts in relation to the Latin American photography landscape.


From the series Queens by © Luis Cobelo


Tell us about your beginnings in photography . . .

I started when I was 19 (I am now 44), working for a small newspaper at the University of Zulia in Venezuela where I studied philosophy. My father had taught me to make pictures a few years ago and I did not know I would become a photographer. At that time as a student I had to earn a living to pay for my studies, and so I began. Everything was in black and white, I spent many hours in different laboratories; I made one in the bathroom of my home. After that I would work in two national newspapers working on anything from sensationalism to weddings and communions. After a few years, I left Venezuela for Spain and became independent. I did many specific assigments for magazines in Spain and many parts of the world, but above all, the bulk of my work and where I feel most comfortable is when developing stories that come from personal ideas, and that may be isues I like of society or not.


In parallel to your work as a photographer, you also work as an editor. How did you become interested in this field?

I work as an editor on the LAT Photo Magazine project; but the selection of the work is done by the guest editors & curators, who accept the challenge of getting to know what is currently being done in the Latin American region. I’m still a photographer, I do not intend to become a curator; I am passionate and studious about photography and especially of that done in Latin America. It is a big pleasure to promote the great work done by some Latin American photographers.


You created LAT Photo Magazine, the online publication dedicated to Latin American photography. Tell us about the magazine and your motivations to develop it . . .

I came up with the idea of creating a magazine where only Latin American photographers talking about Latin American issues would be published. This idea came about as a consequence of something that happened to me. My work is focused mainly in Latin America. While living in Spain, I continuously traveled to America to develop all my stories and I never did anything about Madrid, for example, that was my home at that time; where things happen and there are also stories. When I moved back to Venezuela after 10 years in Spain, initially I worked the other way around, and travelled to Europe to do my stories. So I said, “something is wrong”. It was then that I began to look around me and everything was in front of me. It was just to figure out what I should do. It was when I thought of making the magazine. LAT Photo Magazine was created because of my need to tell photographers to work on themes realted to their enviroments that often go unnoticed. There is no need to go far away to find photographic documents. Still, we must do them well.

Today, after eight issues, the magazine has become a reference for what is happening today in the Latin American photography industry. Along with other magazines that already existed, what we do is to contribute to the promotion and visibility of photographers. And it is finally confirmed that photography experts all over the world are looking this side.


What are your thoughts on the current Latin American photography landscape?

It is an extraordinary moment for Latin American photography. As I said before, the magazine is a good thermometer to measure what is currently happening. There have been a lot of discoveries. Many of the featured photographers in some editions of the magazine are now a highlight in the photography industry. The foundations for a new language and a new gaze, far from the clichés that for years have marked the region, are being settled. However, I do not want this to be just a fad.


And talking in particular about Venezuelan photography?

In the last few years Venezuela’s political landscape has marked the look of photographers too. Very few have managed to take from all this chaos works that rationalize without divisions what is happening in the country. On one side there are the projects that show the reality, raw and uncensored, direct and somehow what you expect to see as the result of an uncontrollable crisis: anarchy, crime, impunity, poverty and violence. Then there are essays where the photographer also explores this crisis, but transforms it into art and personal languages, leaving a unique mark, ceasing to be massive and therefore the message is much more powerful. This is where the real future of the Venezuelan photography lies.


In what ways do you think the photographers you have chosen refer to Venezuelan photography?

It is difficult to cover in five authors what is currently happening with Venezuelan photography. The selected authors work starting from an internal or external conflict. They are dissatisfied about something; uncomfortable. Their strategy as photographers is to analyze the underlying anger that is inserted, like an annoying virus, in the vast majority of the Venezuelan population, photographing something that worries them, that disturbs them; this is where thought and the intelligent protest arise.


What is the message you want to give your curatorship?

Reflection. An image or a set of them that forces you to reflect and analyze is much more powerful than a flat image where you only see what is in it and nothing else.


Talking again about your personal projects. What are you currently working on?

I am producing different stories. On one side I am investigating the concepts of forgiveness and hate in the Colombian society in relation to the guerrilla. I also have some work-in-progress projects in Cuba. In parallel, I am photographing people over 30 that never had sexual relations in their lives.


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