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A photo exhibition by Colombian photojournalist Federico Rios showcasing his experience inside Colombia’s rebel camp took place on 27 April 2017 at LAGCC’s Gallery of Photographic Arts in the B-Building.
The event was sponsored by the LaGuardia’s Association and was co-sponsored and hosted by the Humanities Department’s Photography department. Assistant Professor Hugo Fernandez welcomed the audience of students, faculty and staff at the opening and thanked the Director of Photography, Professor Scott Sternbach, for making it all possible.
For many years, Mr. Rios has been documenting the oldest guerrilla group in Latin America called the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).
FARC is a military group occupying many Latin American countries, but most notably Colombia. It represents a guerrilla group that was created in 1964 to oppose the Colombian government. FARC has been fighting what they say is an oppressive regime for over 50 years in Colombia’s vast jungle.
Lidiya Kan, a Higher Education Officer at LaGuardia, met Rios two years ago at a conference organized by CUNY and loved his work. She then proposed that he exhibit his work at the College, which took them a year of planning to finally make happen.
The issue between the guerrillas and the government is a devastating predicament. Mr. Rios decided to immerse himself in the warriors’ lives and photograph their daily acts. In a series of thirty-two photographs, he was able to capture their human qualities that aren’t usually portrayed in the media.
Each photo at the gallery shows a FARC member wearing a badge symbolizing the Colombian flag. When Mr. Rios was asked if this was intentional, he responded “yes.” In a follow-up question about whether he had to wear the badge and uniform as a temporary member of their rebel group he replied, “No, I was just a visitor that stayed in their community.”
The Bridge had an exclusive interview with Mr. Rios about his time in jungle with the guerrillas. When asked why he was allowed to travel along with them, he stated that he was unsure why they allowed him to invade their lives. However, what he did say on the subject was that “no one under the equator was representing them.”
When asked what it was like to be with the guerillas, Mr. Rios made it clear that he was not really a part of them. “I never held a gun or participated in actions they were doing. But I was up when they were up,” he said, and added, “You are just a witness. Sometimes there is consecutively nothing for days, things happen around you. You’re not in control.”
“I moved when they moved, ate when they ate, and slept when they slept. I was just a visitor capturing their journey to tell their side of the story,” Mr. Rios said.
In a response to an inquiry about how this became his main assignment, Ms. Rios surprisingly revealed that it was his sense of interest that made him do it. He mentioned that it took him four years to prepare for it; he did research and contacted people that could help him get inside the camp. His goal was to”photograph the human condition, the daily life” of Colombia’s guerrillas.
He spent two months in the camp. He recalled there were days where nothing was happening at the camp, yet he always carried a camera with him—whenever and wherever he went.
“When you commit to doing something, you have to be really patient. I was patient, and I was always present, with my camera on my shoulder, always,” Mr. Rios said.
The Bridge’s staff also seized the opportunity to interview one of the viewers in the gallery, the United Nations Representative Jared Coffer. According to Mr. Coffer, the UN’s involvement was to create a peaceful environment where the Colombian government and FARC would come to an agreement to cease fire. It was essentially their peace mission. FARC was set to relinquish all their armory at the end of May while becoming an official political party in return.
Mr. Rios’s work gives us a closer look and an understanding of what was happening with the military conflicts in Colombia. There is one photo in his exhibition that is particularly striking. It is a photo of women in military uniforms resting in a hut. One woman looks like she is telling a funny story as the other woman smiles at her with both of her hands on a rifle. Another woman is on her phone, while the otheris drinking from a tumbler of water.
It was striking to see the photos of those same women fight for their country in the name of peace and their private side, living almost like civilians, in this powerful and mind-opening exhibition.