Journalist’s Haunting Images Displayed

June 25, 2004

PHOTOGRAPHY gleaned from a lifetime of photojournalismin Latin America is on display at the National Gallery in San José.It is the culmination of the work of a lifelong pictorial storyteller,each chapter in black and white, blown up and framed.The famous, the poor, those whose photos made a point andthose who were generally newsy passed through Héctor García’slens and were solidified in his artful exposures. The multiple award-winning photojournalist from Mexico scoured his countryand Central America for the images that told the stories of eachplace.Now, at 81, he exhibits his most powerful work, defined by thefame of the subject, as in the case of his portraits of such hard-hittingartists as Gabriel García Márquez and Frida Kahlo, or by thetenacity with which the scene portrayed clings to the viewer evenafter it is out of sight. One such photo is of a boy curled tragicallyin a nook in a cement wall. Called “boy in the cement womb,” aFrench minister visiting Mexico called it “one of the most cruelimages of our time.”Another, the photo that headlines the exhibit, called “ElZapatista,” is of a stalwart figure – a photo of such gray beautythat if a print were bought, it could not be hung in a room of thehouse that is often entered. It would desensitize the viewer.The photo is balanced by the shaded underside of the sombreroabove a woolen poncho and empty bullet straps draped over thenarrow shoulders of an aging man. He was a veteran of the originalZapatista rebellion, García said, whom, though his age-weariedeyes look at the viewer, never knew his photo was snatched from20 meters away through a telephoto lens.“El Ché” captures Ernesto “Ché” Guevara in military uniformsmoking the last inches of a cigar.ALIEN-looking steel forgers, faces covered in torn bandanas,look through outlandish goggles at the camera in the simply titled“Forjadores del Acero” (Steel Forgers).And others – comedians, singers, actresses, a poet, a director,and the heart-rending masterpieces of grainy children and peopleof the working class in the midst of the props of progress, religion,labor and poverty.He spoke of photography in religious terms, placing his philosophyof the art of picture taking among his praise of people who“live like human beings as God commanded in the creation of theworld.” The invention of the camera is the way that people canspeak the truth.“With photography, one’s own eyes are enough” to understand,he said. “It’s the perfect communication – universal and human – and it doesn’t need translation.”Hanging alongside García’swork are the portraits of CostaRicans as interpreted throughGloria Calderón’s camera. In anexuberant address to the crowdoverflowing the exhibition hall onthe night of the inauguration, shesaid “I’m nothing more than inlove with my people from CostaRica,” and dedicated the work toher daughter. “Everything is areflection of what she has taughtme,” she said.CALDERÓN, the daughter ofex-President of Costa Rica RafaelÁngel Calderón, steered clear ofwealth and power and chose hersubjects democratically from averageCosta Ricans. Her photos documentthe young and the old in stillmoments of their daily routines.Most look like snapshots, remarkablefor the detail evident in theirsize and the respectability thatblack-and-white films lends ascene.“Coquetas” (Flirts), is one ofthe most noteworthy of her collection– two young girls, one black and one Hispanic, peering from a white woodenwindow frame, only their faces and grasping hands are visible.Calderon’s strength is in close-up portraits – both her understanding of light ontheir skin and the array of characters she chose to shoot. “Don Ramón” is azoomed-in detail of the part of a face between overgrown, luminescent eyebrowsand wrinkled lips, ancient eyes and an expressionless mouth. “Don Rafael” wearsa huge, gap-toothed smile that crinkles the corners of his eyes with creases thatextend to his jaw line.In line with the school of thought that more wrinkles than teeth make for goodphotos, “Quique” portrays a gap-toothed man holding a broom on a spiral staircasesmiling upward at the camera.OTHER subjects include children and others working in a tree farm, a womanwith her baby, and people in their pulperías and other small businesses doing theirphotogenic daily chores.The exhibition will be available for viewing through June 30 at the NationalGallery in the Children’s Museum in San José.Museum hours are 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. weekdays, weekends 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.Entrance to the gallery is free, a voluntary payment is accepted.The museum is in the redecorated former central penitentiary, one kilometer northof the Banco Nacional headquarters in San José.For more info, call 258-4929.

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