Manifesto Letter

Text and images (C) 2012 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved

Caillebotte in Bogotá ('99)

From the series “Caillebotte in Bogotá,” taken on a rainy Saturday afternoon, in homage to Caillebotte’s paintings of Paris around 100 years earlier.

Last weekend was pretty good at the gallery and I hope this weekend will be the same. However, I’m not really writing about sales and visits so much as attempting a statement about what I hope to accomplish. Part of this blog tonight is therefore a continuation of my Letters to Linda as well as an addition to the “manifesto” I started when I re-opened the gallery.  Hence the title.

Hundreds of people will buy a photo taken in Paris, France, because it was taken in Paris, France. Or London or Rome or Madrid (España, not to be confused with a small village on the Bogotá sabana also called Madrid). An equal number will purchase a photo because it was taken in an exotic location, or buy a “famous photographer” (99% of the time male) or a combination of these factors. The connecting definition is that the city/event/photographer is already well-known on a major scale.

Colombia is–despite its geographic location–not well known. It has produced well-known artists and photographers, but Sady González (yes, a man) or Ruven Afanador are held to second or third place positions after, let’s say, Cartier-Bresson or David LaChapelle. All these men are talented, but Cartier-Bresson and LaChapelle have access to some major p.r. companies in countries where the latest news now carries the weight of an Egyptian tomb discovery. Even Mario Testino (Peruvian) benefits from this access, even though some may criticize his work as “kind of fluffy.” The bottom line is that p.r. and volumes of literature and poetry have made millions of people believe that a photo taken in or of a world-famous city is automatically “important” or “valuable.” By comparison, Bogotá Distrito Capital, Colombia, is a non-descript podunk. When people think of Colombia and/or Bogotá, they think of drugs and Pablo Escobar.

Truthfully, Bogotá was never really the drug capital. That’s Medellín and, later, Cali. Bogotá is the political capital of Colombia, and frankly, there are very very few drugs as powerful as politics. For the other drugs (cocaine, pot, whatever), Medellín and Cali are the centers for wheeling, dealing and getting killed. Less so now, but still, their reputations are pretty strong.

I do not live in Medellín and Cali. Considering their idyllic climates and entrepreneurial spirits, maybe I should. Each has a lot to recommend it.

But alas! I live in Bogotá, because I choose to, and visit all the other places. If I actually did move to another Colombian city, I’d probably go to Santa Marta. It sits between the Caribbean and the desert and is backed by mountains. Beautiful place! Or Mesitas del Colegio, which is a very small town wrapped around a mountainside 32 km southwest of Bogotá. (That’s 32 km as the crow flies. As the car drives, it’s about an hour away along a two-lane highway. Fabulous scenery!)

So here we are in Bogotá. And that is what I photograph. I photograph Bogotá as one big object, in the same way thousands of other photographers photograph their personal objects of desire. This is mine. In the last 20-some years, I’ve acquired a fairly large archive, most in black-and-white, but quite a bit in color. I print my own black and white and would like to do more color printing now that I have a big Epson printer, but the cost of the inks makes this impossible right now. I just do not have the US$250 to $300 it would take to buy a full set of the pigmented inks the printer uses. And another US$250 for decent printing paper in two sizes (letter size and either 11″x14″ or 13″x19″), imported from the US. Traditional darkroom is simply my best option.

The more the city changes, the more valuable my photos become, therefore the price for a print goes up. Fine with me. But, who are my clients? Most are Colombians, over 40, college-educated and well-travelled. May have worked and lived abroad. Also Europeans. At one point, I realized that the number of Americans buying my work could be counted on the fingers of one hand. I do not know why this is so.  I did have one particular American client who was very knowledgable about photography and bought many prints, even ordering a few for Christmas presents. Then he got married and his wife decided that I was not important enough to be in her livingroom. I regret losing him as a client because it’s nice to be able to talk about a photo with someone who understands photography as an art form, but I hope he kept the prints. A few of them have since become historic documents. Love that added value!

So, to my friend Linda and my brother–I know you both think I’m crazy and wasting my time, even tempting fate and endangering my physical health (I barely have enough money to buy a few things to eat right now). But I am an artist. Fine art photography is what I do best and I’ve discovered that running a gallery showing and selling my work is a job I can perform quite well. Alone. And I find it very interesting that you two think I should give you prints as a token of my esteem, rather than accept money from you. Thanks for the support and respect. I know that you have trouble understanding my work because you’ve never been to Bogotá and so you view my photos as aesthetic excercises, rather than art objects to hang on your wall. After all, if I were really good, I’d be rich and famous by now, wouldn’t I?  Has it never occurred to you that an artist (any artist) only becomes rich and famous when people buy his/her work? You guys have been in Michigan way too long!

The other day, I decided that, should the opportunity arise (and I hope it does, soon!), I want to go to Peru and later Chile to take the photos that I’ve wanted to take for over 20 years. Why didn’t I do it before now? Because the idea of going someplace and seriously taking pictures freaked me out too much. But I think I’ve gotten over that. I want to go to Machu Picchu and take photos to compare with the ones I took in July 1965. I want to go to Piura and Sipán and photograph the landscapes there, also Arequipe (specifically a convent there).  And Inca ruins. In Chile, I want to photograph the landscape.

And in Colombia, I just have an incredibly long list of places I want to photograph, and at what times of the day.

And after every excursion, I’ll select the best images, print them and show them in my gallery. I hope people order copies, of course, but I’d like to accomplish my goals of going, photographing and exhibiting.

I simply can not do that living in the US on welfare.

In my neighborhood in Bogotá, people know who I am by what I’ve done–open a gallery that specializes in photography and painting and which welcomes everyone to come in and look. A gallery where the artist is in residence, permanently. That sounds trivial to an American, but in Colombia, I’ve been able to communicate something about art that gallery visitors find special. On my birthday, celebrated with my dogs, I spent some time photographing a young man who plays saxophone on the Eje Ambiental to earn money for school. I plan to give him copies of some of the photos. He was surprised that I’d even noticed his existence, and that I wanted to photograph him at all was a novel experience for him. I got some great shots and a free concert, and he discovered that sometimes people really do listen to him. A fair exchange, I think.

As I said before, you probably think I’m crazy to stay here and crazier still to spend my time photographing Bogotá. Maybe so, but there are over 7 million people living here, who want to live here, and we can not all be crazy.

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2 Comments

Filed under Untold Tales

2 responses to “Manifesto Letter

  1. There is an old saying…”if 50 million Frenchmen do a foolish thing, it’s still a foolish thing.”

    • Happy Father’s Day, Rocky, and thanks for commenting. I wrote the post late at night, tired and very very hungry. My brother and my best friend skipped my birthday but maintain the fantasy that Colombia should be just like the US. Therefore, my inability to do something or whatever misunderstandings might come up are all my fault. And yet, I have reopened my gallery, generating positive responses and even sales, and generally deal with other artists. This makes me an aging hippe and crazy old lady/bitch, according to the US Consulate, R E Olds Anderson, Jr., Linda Cowles and an awful lot of Americans who seem to think corruption in American politics has no impact on them. So, who’s crazy now? Or perhaps, who’s doing a foolish thing now?
      Thanks again for your comment. Hope all is well with you! Happy Fourth of July, in advance!

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