Misha Vallejo, On the other side

In an Ecuadorian village populated for the vast majority by Colombian refugees and asylum seekers, Vallejo spent two short stays, looking for images in a place where nothing much is happening. The result is a touching portrait of exile.

MishaVallejo_AlOtroLado__DSC8424.JPG#ass
Photo by Misha Vallejo, from the series Al otro lado

The banks of Puerto Nuevo, in Ecuador, draw the border with Colombia – an unattended border with no authority outpost, no police, and no military. “It’s a twilight zone there. You can feel that something is not right”, Misha Vallejo describes it.

In this village populated for the vast majority by Colombian refugees and asylum seekers, Vallejo spent two short stays, looking for images in a place where nothing much is happening, especially during the burning day - proof is, the equation of 5 churches and 5 disco-bars for a few hundreds inhabitants. “Nothing is going on but you have this sense that something is going to happen”, he adds. This atmosphere of anxious boredom transpires in the expressive gestures of the characters and the recurring elements spread throughout the book. The head of a decapitated Barbie doll, for instance, appears once in close-up - a symbol of the inhabitants’ uprooting -, once blurry, hanging under a mirror on a wall covered with religious icons.

MishaVallejo_AlOtroLado__DSC6689.JPG#assPhoto by Misha Vallejo, from the series Al otro lado

Visual repetition and metaphor enable the photographer to depict a drama that unravels behind closed doors. Within a few pages we know the characters enough to recognize them from a few inches of their clothing. Full bleed images too contributes to this sense of intimacy. “I didn’t want white margins around the photographs so people feel at home, or at least feel like they are there”, Vallejo explains.

The book is organized in five chapters – a family, another, the children and the nightlife -, each introduced by an object and the reproduction of a vernacular photograph featured as a loose postcard. “I was really bored there - sometimes you can’t take photos because some things are not visual, or invisible. Someone told me that as a photographer you have to be a collector so, I started to gather objects from people’s houses and to ask them to show me their family albums”, Vallejo recounts.

Washed by time and humidity, these “memory postcards”, as Vallejo calls them, work as a reminder of the longing for the other side, for the homeland often left because of violence. So does the editing, when two separate vertical images melt with each other and create a new, single, image. This visual trick translates Puerto Nuevo’s state of limbo. “I wanted to play with this idea of border, which also melts when people say ‘I am from the other side’ rather than ‘I am from Colombia’”, Vallejo concludes.

MishaVallejo_AlOtroLado__DSC6666.JPG#assPhoto by Misha Vallejo, from the series Al otro lado

To learn more about Misha Vallejo visit his PHmuseum profile

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