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Spotlight: Ana Vallejo's Portrait of Life in the Slums of Bogota

By David Schonauer   Tuesday February 26, 2019


San Germán is a slum on the outskirts of Bogotá, Colombia.

There, notes Colombian documentary photographer Ana Vallejo, live many of the vulnerable” members of society: “Victims of the armed conflict, ex-guerilla members, natives and afros displaced from all over the country.”

“In this neighborhood,” she notes, “land is constantly disputed, the police don't arrive, and violence is first choice in conflict resolution.”  The law, she adds, “often favors the interests of those who yield more power, including construction companies and drug lords. Nevertheless, people here are resilient and stand tall.”

In 2016, Vallejo and a journalist friend began to document San Germán and the people who live there. “We were told to talk to Arley, the leader of the community. We were mesmerized by the place and the beauty of the eastern hills. Arley and his friends were energetic and warm, walking around the neighborhood dressed in camouflage clothes with knives and walkie-talkies. You could feel their young rebellion and hope in the air, the resistance to their life situation,” she recalls.

The result of her work is a series Vallejo calls “Entre Nubes” (“Between Clouds). Her portrait of one resident, displaced from her home in another city by paramilitary fighters, was named a winner of the Latin American Fotografia 7 competition.

The woman in the picture is Rosa Gallego, who, notes Vallejo, was displaced from the Colombian city of Arauca by paramilitary groups more than 10 years ago. “Her son still lives in the streets of Arauca,” says Vallejo. “He is a drug addict. Rosa had already lived in other makeshift neighborhoods and had also tried living in apartments before arriving to San Germán. She was always evicted for not paying rent. She confessed to me that her daughter's husband was a BACRIM fugitive and that they didn't know how to protect him. Rosa lived four months in San Germán with her partner, her partner's son, her daughter and her daughter's husband before moving to Medellin.”

(BACRIM is the term used to describe criminal groups and enterprises not linked to Marxist rebels. BACRIM members are not allowed to take part in the demobilization process launched with the end of Colombia’s long civil war.)

Below are other images from Vallejo’s “Entre Nubes” series:

“My passion is to understand the world and society in an experiential way, with all its complexities and variety,” says Vallejo. “I am a faithful believer that the most interesting nuances of reality are found in everyday life and in the periphery of action. I also think art’s higher purpose is to transform society and that its potential is reached through collaborative work.”

Vallejo began her photography career in 2015, as an intern at Colombia’s Semana magazine. That same year she started a commercial and event photography company. In 2017 she received a scholarship to attend the first Native Photography Festival in Quito, Ecuador. In 2018 she was accepted for both The New York Times Portfolio Review and Eddie Adams workshop in New York. Besides being chosen as a winner of the Latin American Fotografía 7 competition, she was named the Still Photographer of the Year in the annual EyeEm competition.

She continues to work on the “Entres Nubes” project. “I am applying to grants and self-financing,” she says. “I also want to work on a more abstract project on the side, about deconstructing photography and experimenting with the medium itself — photographic paper, Instax film, cyanotypes, etc. The idea is to trigger emotions by experimenting with the photographic medium and with color,” she says.

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Dispatches from Latin America