A new book brings beauty and diversity in an instant...
When photographer Matthew O’Brien came to Colombia in 2003, to cover the Concurso Nacional de Belleza and Reinado Popular beauty pageants, little did he know that it would be the start of a decade-long dalliance with the country.
Back in the bad old days, he’d tell people he was coming here and they would react with shock and even fear. But Matt, a California native, has never been interested in what he calls ‘misery photography’: he wants his photos to celebrate beauty.
He has since revisited the country many times for different projects and exhibitions, including a six month stint in Medellin during which he taught at three universities and worked for an art-youth project with ‘visionary’ curator Juan Alberto Gaviria Vélez.
Over the course of his trips, he’s kept what could be described as a diary of polaroids. They capture the places he’s been to and, more importantly, the people he’s encountered, showing the extraordinary diversity of Colombia.
“As an artist, I don’t want to do the same thing over and over. I’ve done lots of documentary work, and I wanted this series to be different, both in the way I went about creating it and the way it looks. It’s my take on Colombia, reflecting my personality and experiences with no pretense of objectivity,” he explains.
Matt adds that he likes the immediacy and the intimacy of polaroid images. “When you use a digital camera, you take lots of different shots. With a Polaroid, you generally just take one, because the film is expensive and scarce, and so you have to be more deliberate.”
He also enjoys sharing polaroid technology, which many of his subjects are seeing for the first time: “In the early years of the project, I would often take two pictures and give one away to the people in the picture. But now that they don’t make the film anymore, I pretty much had to stop that practice. When it is feasible I have copies made at labs and give those to the people.”
By ordering his pictures chronologically and using what is now quite a dated medium, he certainly gives a real sense of time passing. The book also captures the country’s contrasts by, for example, juxtaposing images of priests with photos of scantily clad women. This reflects just one of many cultural enigmas that puzzle visitors. As Matt says, “I think it’s a different style from the coffee table books you get in the airport. I would like to think that my book has more depth, more vision.”
The images are currently part of an exhibition in the Museo Bolivariano de Arte Contemporáneo in Santa Marta, and have also been exhibited in Medellin and Pereira. This year they will be on show at the Centro Colombo Americano in Manizales and he also hopes that he will be able to exhibit in Bogota in 2015.
Photos: With thanks to Matthew O’Brien
The book is bilingual and a copublication of Placer Press of San Francisco, and Icono Editorial of Bogota. It will be published in 2015 in the United States.
The book costs $90,000COP.
For more information, visit Matt’s website at: