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Books: Giorgio Negro Records the "Pathos" of Latin America

By David Schonauer   Wednesday May 22, 2019


Giorgio Negro doesn’t consider himself a documentary photography.

“I photograph what I like without the objective of documenting a specific subject,” he told one interviewer. Rather, he calls himself “a sort of random/anarchic photographer.”

Negro is a two-time winner of the Latin American Fotografia competition. Two of his images — a view of a slaughterhouse in Mexico and a poolroom in Brazil — were singled out in the LAF 5 contest. He was named a winner of LAF 7 for his photograph of people living in Alto Sanibeni, a village in the Peruvian Selva Central that was attacked in 1992 by the Shining Path rebel group.

All of those images were part of a larger project called “Pathos,” a collection of photographs that Negro made during trips through five Latin American and Caribbean countries — Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, and Cuba. The series, which was also among the winners of the LensCulture Emriging Talents Awards in 2018, is being published as a book this month.

The images included in the project are not related to a specific subject or theme, notes Negro. “They are the result of casual encounters and represent in some way my vision of the many contrasts of the continent,” he says. “They also somehow mirror my own internal personal contrasts.”

Here are Negro's LAF-winning images:

A Swiss citizen, Negro worked for the International Red Cross for 23 years, before leaving the organization in 2017.

“My job brought me to many countries all over the world, during conflict situations. In Latin America, I had been working in countries characterized by internal conflicts — Peru, Colombia — or high levels of violence, as in Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti, and Ecuador,” he says. “Sometimes my missions were very long, one year or more, sometimes they were shorter visits. That's why I developed a sort of deep and intimate relationship with the Latin American people and its culture.”

Negro says he got to love Latin America. "It is not a blind love, it is rather an attraction that implies to recognize all the different aspects of Latin America, the good and the bad,” he says. “The Latin American culture — and I speak of Latin America as a whole, since there is a certain homogeneity of culture throughout all the Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries of the continent — is a culture of contrasts and ambiguity. It’s a culture where life and death, melancholy and happiness, dear poverty and glittering luxury, gruesome violence and deep tenderness, submission and revolt, feast and sorrow, crying and laughter, coexist together in the everyday life, intimately intertwined — to such a deep extent that sometimes you cannot tell the difference between those opposites. This coexistence of black and white fascinates me.”

Negro’s path to photography was inspired and guided by the photographer Ernesto Bazan, whose famed workshops he attended. In 2005 I wanted to finally begin street and documentary photography and therefore I started looking on the internet for workshops in Cuba and Latin America,” he said in an interview earlier this year. “I sort of stumbled upon Ernesto.”

It was Bazan who taught Negro to love black-and-white photography “and, most importantly,” he says, “to go beyond the surface or appearance of things.”

The project’s overriding tone — a searching and spontaneous quality — derives from the many years spent traveling through Latin America and the countless places he visited.

“I always tried not to photograph people and places, to not remain on the surface of the reality which stayed in front of my eyes,” says Negro, who shot most of the images in the series with a collection of analog cameras, (including a Nikon F100, a Contax RTS III, and a Konica Hexar) on a variety of black-and-white film stocks (Kodak Tri-X 400; Ilford HP5).

“I always wanted, and rarely succeeded, to get into the intimate world of people, animals and things, in order to explore the nature of our world, which is also my world. It has been a sort of discovery of myself through the world around me. I never decided something like, ‘Today I go there go and photograph to discover myself.’”

Currently Negro is working on a project about everyday life in Switzerland using a panoramic camera and black-and-white film.

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Dispatches from Latin America