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New photography exhibition charts Latin America’s greatest years of upheaval

New photography exhibition charts Latin America’s greatest years of upheaval

Posted by Juan Gavasa on July 14, 2014

Guerrillas wearing tattered clothes and bandanas pose with their weapons, Nicaraguan prisoners staring with tired faces through rusting prison bars, and Guatemalan indigenous people in bright traditional clothing are among the photographs of a new exhibit at the Museo de La Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos.

The exhibit, “Las Calles de las Penas  / Viajes por América Latina (1975 – 1988) (Streets of Sorrow / Travels through Latin America)” opened June 24 through October will showcase 51 photographs taken by Chilean photojournalist Marcelo Montecino while he traveled throughout Central and South America during the period.

“When political situations started to boil in Central America, I felt like I had to go cover it,” Montecino told The Santiago Times.

Many of the photographs in this most recent exhibit, such as the image of a Guatemalan native woman gazing into a lush rainforest with one young son at her side and the other swaddled on her back, demonstrate how Montecino strived to capture the lives of people inherently different from Chilean society to satisfy his own curiosity.

“I think that Guatemala is the most beautiful Latin American country,” Montecino said. “However there was something strange about it, like there was always violence outside of the picturesque.”

One of the principal conflicts Montecino helped document was the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua that involved the overthrow of the militarized Somoza family dictatorship in 1979. In 1978 Montecino traveled to Nicaragua with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and took shots of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and captured images of young guerrillas braced for battles and the suffering of military prisoners.

“Nicaragua was probably my favorite place to take pictures, the people are just wonderful,” Montecino said. He added that many grew up listening to Chilean music, such as Victor Jara, and treated Chileans particularly well.

Montecino entered the capital of Nicaragua, Managua, the day of the Sandinista victory July 20, 1979, and images in the exhibit show the elation following the defeat of the dictatorship.

“The day of the revolution — who could ever forget that! Tons of people in the street, guns shooting in the air, that was a story in itself,” he said.

The exhibit also includes images taken when Montecino traveled to El Salvador that same year with Legal Aid, a human rights organization led by the Catholic Church. These images capture crowds mourning cadavers left behind by El Pyrón death squads.

The exhibit is curated by Andrea Aguad Chacur and Samuel Salgado Tello of the organization Cenfoto-UDP, a national photography heritage cooperative.

Salgado said that the pictures in the exhibit are in chronological order.

“We wanted to demonstrate how Montecino’s pictures are documental and capture the distinct essence of historical moments,” Salgado told The Santiago Times.

Montecino was born in Santiago in 1943 and moved to the U.S. aged 11. He studied international relations at George Washington University before studying art theory at the Universidad de Chile. Since 1973 he has worked for news agencies as a photojournalist and reporter. His experience includes published work in Time, Newsweek and the Washington Post. Some of his most extensive work was on the transition to democracy in Chile, and military conflict in Central and South America.

Currently Montecino lives in Bethesda, Maryland with his family and works as a freelance journalist as well as an interpreter.

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