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False Memory: conquest and plunder in the horizons of Latin America.Dante Busquets.
They lifted up the gold as if they were monkeys, with expressions of joy, as if it put new life into them and lit up their hearts. As if it were certainly something for which they yearn with a great thirst. Their bodies fatten on it and
they hunger violently for it. They crave gold like hungry swine.Fray Bernardino de Sahagn in General History of the Things of New Spain.
I saw the debris and the empty holes, the ghost towns, the dead tracks of the nitrate railway, the silent telegraph wires, the skeletons of nitrate fields mangled by the bombardment of years, the cemetery crosses buffeted at night
by the cold wind, the whitish hills of slag piled up beside the excavations.Eduardo Galeano in Open Veins of Latin America.
In his book Open Veins of Latin America, the Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano leads us through the devastation of the American Continent, since its discovery in 1492, until the early 1970s. His words produce astounding images in the readers mind: loads of gold snatched away from Indian civilizations by the conquistadors; mountains of precious metals transformed into hollow shells; environments once fertile and unique, replaced by desolate plains.
Since the European colonization of the Americas, the conquering nations did not seek to develop the local economies. Instead, they relied upon their colonies for the harvesting of valuable raw materials, and established a system in which economical exploitation, rather than territorial and cultural assimilation, became the driving force. Human and natural resources were abused and stripped away from what is Latin America today, and converted into European -and later U.S.- profit, due to centuries of dominance by the distant centers of power.
Do the signals left behind in these altered landscapes, account for all which development has, and still devours? This ongoing photographic project focuses on the effects of colonization, industrialization, and of the continuous transformation of the Latin American landscape in our present time. The spirit of the Open Veins inspired me to photograph places where the accumulated effects of the extraction of resources over the centuries can be seen: the consequences that the actions of our civilization have upon its condition. Throughout the images, I try to establish the abuse of society, by showing the abuse to the environment.
The first condition to change reality is to know it. The author Andre Gunder Frank wrote in his Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America, that the poorest regions are those which in the past had enjoyed periods of boom, and had the closest links to the metropolis.
My work investigates the notion of geography, memory and change. I am interested in the idea of how people respond to circumstances like topography, climate and soil, and how these influence the way we shape our habitats. I previously worked on SATELUCO, a project about a well-known suburban area of Mexico City. I spent my adolescence in one of the many neighbourhoods of this area generically known as Satlite; a new urban concept in Mexico during the mid-fifties.
While working on the present False Memory series, I have noticed that most of the places that I have visited so far, hang precariously onto memories of better, but distant times. In the northern Mexican state of Baja California Sur, I photographed the important mining centers of El
Triunfo and Santa Rosala. During the 19th century, silver and gold attracted more than 10,000 miners from all over the world to El Triunfo. Today, the town has a population of only 321 people. Most live out of the tourists that pass by, looking for two local attractions: the arsenic-infested ruins that were left behind when the mine was shut down, and an odd museum that houses the biggest collection of pianos in Mexico, brought to El Triunfo by the wealthy miners during its heyday.
To the north of the peninsula, in the port Santa Rosala, I found a city full of decaying industrial ruins left by the Compagnie du Boleo, the French mining corporation that exploded copper from 1885 until the 1950s. The French profoundly influenced the city, leaving their mark in the architecture and the topography, and on a heavily polluted coast appropriately called Playas Negras, or black beaches. In 1992 it was established that vast amounts of copper still existed in Santa Rosala, and today a Korean consortium exploits this new reserve. The mineral is extracted from an open pit, bringing even more pollution and degradation to the local ecosystem.
In 2013 I travelled to Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in Latin America. There I photographed the city of Potos and its Cerro Rico -the Rich Mountain-, the major colonial-era supplier of silver for Spain. In this place I met Reynaldo, an ex-miner who showed me the bowels and the crust of the mountain. He told me how his father, also a miner, was crushed to death by falling rocks inside the mine. The world's insatiable thirst for silver has had a terrible human cost: it is estimated that in the Cerro Rico alone, as many as eight million people -mostly African and native Indian slaves- may have died digging its precious metal out, during colonial times. The silver from this mine fuelled much of the economic rise of Europe, and directly influenced significant world growth. In the present, Potos is a poor city in a poor Bolivia: the city which has given most to the world and has the least1.
In this photographic series, I am exploring with the use of different voices, and trying to apply them in prose, just as a writer would do in a narrative. In a series of short chapters, I experiment by mixing a variety of digital and analogical formats, using both black and white and color. I also seek to support the project with archival imagery and other sources, aiming to provoke a dialogue between the images, like characters in a novel.
I plan to mix the images at a later time with audio and video that Ive also recorded during my travels. With the aid of a few projectors and other current digital tools, I want to produce a final transmedia piece, in an attempt to bring forth a current portrayal of the depleting effects that our greed and neglect have had upon the Latin American region, and by extension the world as a whole,
Despite the sometimes gruesome accounts of destruction and abuse in the region, hope is what moves me the most on Galeanos work. Just as he tried to unearth clues from the past that might help explain the present time, my idea is to continue exploring and photographing other areas in Latin America in order to reflect upon this false memory, which Galeano argues, has been implanted unto our Latin American identity.
1 Eduardo Galeano in Open Veins of Latin America
01 Chaaral02 Zapato industrial03 TEXTO - Cita 1 ENG04 Silvanita05 Minero salitre06 Carrito Nitroglicerina07 Minera_El_Cubo08 Plata09 Chaaral10 Seores mineros11 Santa Rosalia 0212 El Triunfo13 Mapa de Potos14 Sumaj Orcko15 Potos_Panorama16 Reynaldo17 Cresta del Cerro Rico18 TEXTO - Cita 2 ENG19 Relacin de las minas de Su Majestad en el Cerro Rico de Potos20 Explosin2122 Planta Piloto_Panorama23 El Salvador_Panorama242526 Escopeta272829 TEXTO - Cita 3 ENG30 Escarificado Salar31 Torta de ripio32 Guanajuato33 FIN Sta_RosaliaFINAL False memory - conquest and plunder in the horizons of Latin America