The 3x8 Behind the City

Niru Kolectivo, an Ecuadorian photography duo, documented the historical 24 de Mayo neighbourhood in the country's capital, Quito. Their photographs broke stereotypes associated with the area.

© Niru Kolectivo, from the series The 3x8 Behind the City.

Niru Kolectivo is a documentary photography collective made up of Johanna Alarcón and Eduardo León, based in Quito, Ecuador. Recently they were awarded the prize, Photojournalism for the Peace Juan Antonio Serrano, and exhibited their work at FLUZ, Festival de la Luz, in their homeland.

Johanna is a photographer, visual artist and founder of Nina Shunku. She is the maker of the photo documentary books, Arte Como Herramienta de Transformación Social (Art as a Social Transformative Tool) and Arte en mi Barrio (Art is my Neighbourhood) among many more projects. She continues to focus on art and social justice as a social transformative tool.

Eduardo is a photojournalist and documentary photographer and his clients include; Times, The Guardian, El País, Getty Images and many more. Alongside his photography work, he organises workshops at FOTOVOZ.

How did Niru Kolectivo come about and what were your individual roles in this project, The 3x8 Behind the City?

Niru collective was established in 2015, and it occurs as a result of the project; The 3x8 Behind the City. What united us as a collective was the interest in using documentary photography as a tool to relate to people and get through barriers with the camera.

We always photograph together with the understanding that photography goes beyond the shutter and the picture itself. It is about the researched story, the relationship you get with your subjects. What took the longest was investing time to hear the locals' stories… Then it came getting spontaneous photos and of course, the hardest is to say goodbye. This way is how we got to know 24 de Mayo, but also ourselves as a team, rather complex but satisfactory. Beyond being photographers we are humans, who dream and believe light exists within so much darkness and that kind of photography is our weapon to continue fighting, creating and communicating.

You were recently awarded the prize, Photojournalism for the Peace Juan Antonio Serrano (Fotoperiodismio Por La Paz Juan Antonio Serrano). Congratulations. What impact has the prize had on the continuation of your project.

It is really important to us to have won this prize. First, we would like to thank Paradocs, who have worked really hard to create this great opportunity in documentary photography in the country. We are thrilled. Many opportunities have arisen, such as, big names in the industry have looked at the project and given us their thoughts and suggestions, which for us is invaluable, considering editing a project can be endless. To be aware of new views and experiences make us discover new narratives and creative ways that help the project.

In addition, the diffusion and dialogue of the work, locally and internationally, and of course the economical support to continue the project is fundamental, since it has been rather difficult to get the funds to sustain the initiative and finish this documentary. Our dream has been to exhibit it in the neighbourhood, and we hope to accomplish this and to attribute to 24 de Mayo the love and friendship that we have been given.

© Niru Kolectivo, from the series The 3x8 Behind the City.

What motivated you to produce this project in Quito? For how long have you been working on it?

The need to produce a collective memory of a neighbourhood, which is disappearing due to gentrification.

A neighbourhood that historically in the city that has been marginalised with prejudice about the inhabitants, and with the use of fear as a tactic to delay public policies that work for the locals. A photographic project that can allow a historical testimony to the locals themselves and to the Quito society. A small view towards a neighbourhood that can work as reflection of the whole city.

© Niru Kolectivo, from the series The 3x8 Behind the City.

How did you gain access to the communities in the avenue 24 de Mayo and what challenges did you face?

Well, Johis is part of the Nina Shunku, an independent culture organisation based in 24 de Mayo since four years ago, and this gave some kind of access to the community even prior to the start of the project.

We managed to get some access by knocking at people’s doors and explaining that we wanted to know the history that unfolds in 24 de Mayo. As we talked to more people, we started to see how there was a thread that united them all at some point.

We remained with an open and friendly approach and this was key to access. Without even thinking we would talk to people in common areas or enjoy meals with them. We were involved in their stories, and so we would go back. We are amazed how the camera became our ally, a good excuse to make friends, to know the daily routine. We discovered their reality by being part of it.

The 24 de Mayo is a place that for decades has been considered very dangerous. It was difficult to imagine how could we get access, but the locals were the ones who opened up their doors for us. The biggest challenge was to stop photographing and to walk the streets knocking at people's doors.

Have you exhibited the project in Ecuador? If so, how was it received?

The photographs were part of an exhibition about a new vision of the capital with many more artists at Centro Cultural Metropolitano curated by Claudi Carreras.

What was most interesting was that many of the locals photographed empowered the show by giving guided tours about the photographs to other neighbours from 24 de Mayo. The fact that this forgotten and silenced neighbourhood by politicians and citizens has a space in an exhibition that talks about the city and the community feels involved in it, is moving.

© Niru Kolectivo, from the series The 3x8 Behind the City.

What is the opinion of the residents of 24 de Mayo about the work?

Together with the making of the photographs, we created a narrative workshop to the locals. During the workshop, we gathered many of the neighbours that previously had not met. We showed the photographs and they were able to express what they felt seeing themselves in them. This process helped us to have a dialogue where we could agree on and establish how did we want to represent them.

To finish - once you end this project, will you continue producing documentary stories under the umbrella of Niru Kolectivo or do you have other plans?

As for now, the collective will continue working in the neighbourhood, which we had to put on hold at one point due to the fact we were working on this on our own, which did not allow us to move forward in the way we wanted to. However, the break allowed us to have a more thoughtful work and now to have the opportunity to photograph the changes in a community that is constantly transforming because of the gentrification.

Each of us is working in different forgotten topics in the Ecuadorian society. For instance, Edu is photographing a street in Quito where the new upper class has located after the first petrol barrel came out of the Ecuadorian jungle. It is vital to photograph the upper class in order to understand the inequality in Latin America. A look into what every Ecuadorian looks to accomplish.

To learn more about this project, visit Niru Kolectivo PHmuseum profile

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