The City of Photographers, 2006

During the 1980s, a loose network of politically committed photographers sought to document the atrocities of the Pinochet regime from within the country, establishing a press accredited alliance known as the Association of Independent Photographers (AFI). Capturing the atmosphere of protest and unrest in the streets (most notably, in the daily vigils of women seeking answers for the fate of the desaparecidos, usually husbands and sons who were abducted by government), documenting covert sites of torture and execution, and converging en masse to hot spots of activity in order to effectively chronicle the government’s repressive tactics of press intimidation and police brutality as a means of suppressing dissent, their collective body of work inevitably evolved to become the most intimate, highly visible, and incontrovertible testament on the transgressions of the CIA-backed military dictatorship. Often working with members of the foreign press on the distribution of their photographs as a means of drawing attention to the country’s struggle, their photographs would become integral to the engagement of international community in exposing the abuses and ultimately discrediting the Pinochet government. But beyond the poignant and reverent tribute to the personal sacrifices and everyday heroism of these dedicated photojournalists and the collective toll of their tireless commitment to document their nation’s struggle and raise public awareness for the government’s flagrant human rights violations (the filmmaker, Sebastián Moreno Mardones’s comments on piecing together second-hand memories of the turbulent period from his father’s assembled AFI-era photographs suggests his attempt to insulate his family from the uncertainty of the group’s ideological imperative), what makes The City of Photographers particularly contemporary and insightful is revealed in several photojournalists’ own ambivalence towards their own increasing complicity in the creation of the images (particularly towards the end of the struggle), often deployed into the pre-arranged sites of social action by the protestors themselves, a duality that reflects their complex role as both observers and embedded insurgents in the resistance, from photographing fellow colleagues’ maltreatment and abuse at the hands of police, to a subsequent tragic episode involving the accidental blinding of a child at the hands of the police maltreatments a photographer tells the boy to uncover his face (which he had instinctually covered with his hands at the sight of violence) in order to sensationalize the image of police brutality at the precise moment that an officer swings a baton over the boy’s eyes. It is this provocative, self-reflexive inquiry into the implication of the media in the creation and desensitization of violent images that inevitably makes their story continually relevant, a reminder of the need for self-equilibration in maintaining the integrity of the photographers in their complex role as documenters of the sociopolitical reality and stagers of the spectacle.

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