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Latin American Fotografia: Rodrigo Bernal

By David Schonauer   Wednesday July 1, 2015

Rodrigo Bernal  created a thriving career in advertising, then found it wasn’t enough.

After studying publicity at la Universidad Católica de Manizales in Colombia, Bernal spent 10 years working at a number of advertising agencies in his native Colombia. “I acquired technical, photographic, narrative and visual knowledge that I’ve applied in many design, illustration and animation projects in order to achieve clients’ commercial goals. What I have done during this period of time has been good. I get paid to do what I do well,” he says.

Then, however, Bernal began to feel uncomfortable about his work. “I thought to myself, I’m actually in the belly of the beast. During all these years of working in the advertising industry—an industry that moves the cogs of the machine we call capitalism—deep inside of me, a mutation had begun it’s process,” he says. “First, witnessing the number of people in my society who are in need made me feel I had to do something about it. My country is going through a transition period, and even though peace is the main goal, there are still a lot of social issues needing attention.”

Bernal also came to realize he wasn’t satisfied by creating work that satisfied an advertising client’s commercial needs. “For me, nowadays, it’s not enough to simply deliver a product to a client,” he says. “I was transformed from the inside out. It started as an impulse, like an itch inside my head. Later it became a need, an inspiration that made me dive into photography. It did not happen immediately. The process took several years.”

One of the projects Bernal began working on was a series of portraits showing the street entrepreneurs of Bogata. “Every day on my way to work, I saw how they struggled to survive by selling all sorts of things, from candies or cigarettes to English courses on DVDs,” he says. “They are working on every street corner, exposed to the weather and with no kind of social security. In fact, they have to run from the police because their work is not legal. Lots of them come from rural areas.”

Bernal photographed the vendors and recorded their voices as they told him about their lives. Some weeks later, after looking at the photos more closely, he decided to call his series “Making a Living.” The work was later selected as a winner of the Latin American Fotografia 3  competition.

“That was the moment where I felt that I could transform a social reality through an aesthetic look,” he says. “The mix of all my knowledge helped me make that expression tangible. This realization is not something that comes to you by magic. It is something that was dormant in my mind and began to take shape because of my career, my personal photographic achievements, and my own experiences.”

Bernal’s photography ranges widely in style. He has been experimenting with astrophotography and time-lapse motion shot in Colombian national parks. “I want to make a time-lapse video that shows the beauty and natural perfection of my country, that shows the world something besides drug dealers, the guerrillas and violence,” he says.

He is currently also working on a conceptual project inspired by science fiction called “A.L.E.S. Protocol.”

In one of his trips to the desert, Bernal took along a personalized action figure and photographed it within the landscape, creating a visual narrative. “It’s the story of an space pilot who crashes his spaceship on a unknown planet,” he says.

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Dispatches from Latin America