Latin American Fotografia: Midwives of Colombia, by Joana Toro

By David Schonauer   Wednesday October 16, 2013

The midwives of Buenaventura, Colombia, carry on the practices of their African ancestors, accompanying mothers through the entire process of gestation, before and after birth. In doing so, they provide care for hundreds of women who have no access to hospitals, or who prefer the services of these traditional providers, notes Joana Toro, a Colombian-born photojournalist now living in New York City. Toro’s documentary project about the midwives, a winner of the Latin American Fotografía 1 competition, captures their work with tender intimacy.

Toro’s work focuses on members of the Association of United Midwives of the Pacific, an organization of midwives working in the Pacific coast region of Colombia. “They reinforce a health system that rarely reaches this rural zones, where teenage pregnancy is common,” says Toro. “The midwives perform pre-natal exams from the first month of pregnancy to screen for conditions that may require surgical intervention in a hospital."



The midwives call their practice “humanized birth,” says Toro, because it takes into account how and where mothers prefer to give birth, and whether they want their partner or family members to be present.

A freelancer who has been shooting for newspapers and magazines in South America for 15 years, Toro also creates documentary projects for Global Assignments by Getty Images and Germany’s DPA agency. She has recently been working on an intriguing project about Latin Americans in New York City—immigrants who earn tip money by posing for pictures with tourists in Times Square while wearing costumes that represent the iconic and corporate symbols of US power, such as the Statue of Liberty and Mickey Mouse.

“The experience of covering one’s own individuality with a symbol of the American corporate entertainment industry is a powerful metaphor for the challenges to assimilate and to survive economically faced by the undocumented immigrant,” Toro says. “Seen from within the costume, the panorama of Times Square becomes a fragmented and overwhelming sequence of images—a kaleidoscopic and surreal panorama of globalization and unattainable riches and allure.”



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Dispatches from Latin America