How "Al otro lado" came to be

"You're gonna get mugged, kidnapped or killed!" - This what I was told by friends and relatives when I explained them that I wanted to document the border region between Ecuador and Colombia. What happens along the thin line that divides both countries is little known; everybody assumes it is nothing good.

My destination was Puerto Nuevo, a small village of around five hundred inhabitants, located on the banks of the San Miguel River, on the Ecuadorean side of the border. Colombians fleeing armed conflict in the south of their country founded it in 2001. The village is located in a hard to reach area, in an impoverished region forgotten by the governments of both countries.

I wanted to tell the story of people who were forced to flee from a conflict and live in oblivion. My strategy was to portray the banality of everyday life from a subjective point of view. These are images that do not show violence in a literal way but give the viewer the feeling that something is about to happen. These are images subject to interpretation and various readings, just like literary work. From the beginning it was clear that the project would be called “Al otro lado” (On the other side), since this is the way villagers here refer to their home, the other side of the river, Colombia.

I made three different trips to Puerto Nuevo and after the last visit I had about 6000 photographs. Editing down the work took a lot of time, effort, tears and sweat. More than a year later and with the help of Spanish editor Claudi Carreras, we managed to finish a tight edit that I believe tells a strong story. The book is divided in five chapters and each tackles a different aspect of the town: the village in daytime, the Escobar family (nothing to do with the famous Escobar), the children of the town, the Baldeón family and the town at night.

During my stay in Puerto Nuevo there were times I felt extremely bored because almost nothing happens during the day. For me, boredom was one of the most important creative engines I had there. I was so bored that I started taking pictures of objects found on the streets. I also asked people to show me their family albums and made pictures of the photos inside. During the editing process I decided to make facsimiles of these objects and include them as visual prologues to the chapters. Each prologue is deeply related to the theme of the following chapter.

After the editing stage, we started designing the book with the help of Brazilian designer Mariana Lara Resende. This process was really important since we wanted everything to make sense with the concept of the book: the pictures do not have white frames because we wanted the viewer to feel the pictures continue outside the boundaries of the book; the paper had to have a rough texture to resemble the concrete texture of the unfinished houses in Puerto Nuevo; the gray color had to do with the same issue; the bellyband had to resemble a plastic tablecloth that does not fit really well to the table and so on.

At the end I am really happy with the result and I believe this couldn’t be achieved without the help of Claudi Carreras, Mariana Lara Resende and the crew at Brazilian publishing house Editora Madalena, to whom I am very thankful.

“Al otro lado” was recently shortlisted as one of the 40 best author photobooks by the Rencontres de la Photographie Festival in Arles, France. Areview of the book can be found at the website of the Photographic Museum of Humanity.

If you would like to purchase the book you can find it in our Facebook store. If you are in Brazil you can find it in Livraria Madalena in Sao Paulo or Rio; in Argentina you can find it through Turma de Fotografía in Buenos Aires and in Ecuador you can get a copy at the Librería del Fondo, Librería Rayuela and Casa Mitómana.

Lastly, I leave you with some images of the exhibition at Quito's Contemporary Art Centre, curated by Anamaría Garzón, which will be open until August 28th.

Kawsay Ñampi: Exploring human life along the Manta - Manaus route.

Recently I embarked on a trip to explore human life along the future commerce route Manta-Manaos. This will be a multi-mode route that is supposed to compete with the Panama Canal connecting the Pacific port of Manta in Ecuador with the Brazilian port of Manaos located on the Amazon River.

Some feasability research has been done, always studying the financial and commercial part of the project. I thought that this could be a good excuse to study human life along this way. And for this I will use my preferred tool: photography.

Until December 2015 I will be documenting human life in the following cities: Manta, Quevedo, Latacunga, Tena, Shushufindi, Puerto Providencia, Puerto Nuevo Rocafuerte, Iquitos, Leticia, Tabatinga, Manaos and perhaps some other small towns along the way. This will be a roadtrip of around 2.500 Km that will allow me to explore South America from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean and hopefully, towards the end of the journey, I will understand this region (my region) better.

In the next couple of weeks I will be posting my findings in this blog. But take into account, these are not end results, but the research process.

Welcome on board!

First stop: Manta

Manta is an Ecuadorian coastal city that hosts the second biggest port of the country. The port works almost exclusively for import, since there is no developed industry in the city that could fuel an export business. The city is also proud to be the "Tuna Capital of the World", a title well deserved since this sort of fish drives most of the economy here (although I wonder who gives a city such titles: UNESCO? UN? Selfproclaimed? If you know something, please let me know).

For this first post I will show some of the pictures I made on my first day in town (September 2nd, 2015). The images are in chronological order and there are already some interesting relationships between photographs.

This is the process, not the end result.

The Kawsay Ñampi project is one of the winners of the grant "Fondos Concursables" from the Ecuadorian Ministry of Culture and Heritage.


Next stop: Quevedo.

Misha Vallejo