During these past few decades the image of Colombia as a lawless society dominated by drug lords has developed. I remember countless movies or TV shows showcasing Colombian mafiosos and their cronies (Can you say, Miami Vice?). When images of Colombia were presented it was either the extravagant hacienda of a drug lord or the poor villages or jungles where everyone else supposedly lived. A good recent example is the movie “Mr. And Mrs. Smith” where Bogotá is depicted as a tropical jungle. Bogotá is a modern metropolis of nearly 5 million people and there isn’t any jungle within hundreds of miles. I don’t blame the filmmakers, however. If they showed Bogotá the way it actually is nobody would buy it. I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I hadn’t visited Colombia, so ingrained are these mass media stereotypes.
Experiencing the beauty and diversity of Colombia and its culture for the 1st time as a 20 year-old college student completely changed my life. Previously, I had been ashamed of my heritage because of all the negativity surrounding Colombia, but after that trip I accepted and embraced it. A few years ago I began planning “True Faces of Colombia.” I realized that I had to do something to change people’s perceptions of Colombia and as a photographer I had a way to do it.
True Faces of Colombia is my attempt to present Colombians as they truly are– to give a variety of faces to a people who have been denied them by the media. Most of my time was spent in Cali and the surrounding Departamento (state) of Valle del Cauca. Despite tough economic conditions and other challenges, Caleños are known to be the happiest and most fun loving people in Colombia. Now you have an opportunity to meet some of them and learn a little about Colombian culture as well.
I would like to thank the Independence Foundation and the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC) for their support, without which this project and exhibition would not have been possible.
PHOTO: Abuejero Kids, Copyright Tony Rocco