On 7 September 2017, just before midnight, a magnitude 8.1 earthquake hit Mexico’s southern coast, the second strongest earthquake in the country’s history. It was felt by 50 million people across Mexico and, in the heavily affected states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, killed dozens of people and left over 100,000 homes damaged.
When the earthquake hit, Andres Millan was living in his hometown in Bogota, Colombia, preparing for a four-month residency that would start in November at Casa El Ocote, a gallery and cultural centre in Oaxaca. At quarter to midnight, alerts started to pop up on Millan’s mobile phone. When he switched on the news, the first image he saw was of the Mexican flag at the Municipal Palace in Oaxaca, lit up by lights coming from police cars.
My home is my castle references these first images that Millan saw from Colombia when the earthquake hit. “I wanted to recreate the light from the police car, so the photos are made with two flashes, one with a red filter and another with a blue one. The mixture of colours made the images acquire that pink colour,” he explains.
Pongo has won the prize for his ongoing series The Uncanny, which is shot in The Congo. Born in Belgium in 1988 to a Belgian mother and a Congolese father, Pongo started the project as an attempt to reconnect with his Congolese heritage. He first visited the country in 2011, staying with his Congolese family – most of whom he had never met before – and arriving as the DRC held its second ever democratic elections, for both Presidential and Legislative positions. “I am conscious that photographing in the Congo, as a photographer educated in Europe, reveals my own limitations (in accessing and understanding the environment), bias, and stereotypes,” he says. “However, by turning to a more personal story and documenting my confrontation with my family, the country, and by relying on friends and siblings to introduce me to their visions of this environment, I hope to be able to overcome some of these limitations.
No matter how hard you try, sometimes Arles can be just like Glastonbury (sans mud) – lots of things going on and you get sidetracked, and don’t get to see the one thing you wanted to. However I did manage to get round a diverse group of exhibits this year, one of my favourites actually being the Alice Neel painting show at the Fondation Van Gogh. Here is my round-up of what I saw of note this edition. The House of the Ballenesque, Roger Ballen This was very talked about in Arles – an old ramshackle house that Ballen has taken over, to express somewhat of what goes on in his mind and informs his photography. Like a giant walk-in sketchbook, it’s part fun-house and part mental asylum, with lots of creepy figures and dolls heads stuck on mismatching bodies. It’s worth seeing because it’s a bit different, though it doesn’t quite feel like the main event – it’s more of a fun sideshow to his practice, but interesting nonetheless. Try to go on a …
Karen Paulina Biswell spent much of her upbringing in Paris, having moved there with her parents when barely a teen in the early 1990s to escape the political unrest and violent clashes plaguing her native Colombia. She now lives back in Colombia, and her provocative project on strong women is going on show at Les Rencontres d’Arles
With his stark black-and-white images, Spanish photographer Arnau Blanch takes us on a journey into the recesses of our minds. Projects such as Veneno and Fantasmas use photography to connect how we experience places with our subconscious. Veneno (‘Poison’) was shot between 2008 and 2014; it is set in the jungles of Colombia but, rather than photographing the lush foliage and spectacular canopies, Blanch examines a sinister landscape in which anything can — and does — happen. There are images of sex, weapons, the latent threat of violence; everything is shot bure bokeh, a style in which extremes of contrast echo the extremes of the subject matter. They look like sequences from a discomforting dream, one in which our secret obsessions are only partially disguised by the symbols of our unconscious. A graduate of Barcelona’s Institute d’Estudis Fotograpics de Catalunya, Blanch has also studied at New York’s ICP and was selected for the Joop Swart Masterclass in 2013. “I’ve been following Arnau’s work for a few years now since I saw his Veneno/Colombia work at a portfolio review,” …