Urban Impulses: Latin American Photography From 1959 - 2016 review

Art
4 out of 5 stars
Urban Impulses: Latin American Photography From 1959 - 2016 review
Alejandro Hoppe Chile (b. 1961) 'Funeral de Rodrigo Rojas de Negri, Santiago' (1986) Gelatin silver print Vintage print

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

It’s easy to take photography for granted. In fact, it’s easy to get sick of photography. But as this show of Latin American photography from 1959 to 2016 makes clear, cameras have long served a more important function than capturing the light bouncing off an acai berry bowl.

The exhibition is split into two sections: ‘Shouts’ and ‘Pop-ular’. Collecting together photos from the entire swathe of Latin America across five decades could easily backfire, leading to a sprawling mess of a show. But this thematic categorisation is convincing and works really well.

‘Shouts’ contains pictures of student demonstrations, routine state violence and the faces of ‘disappeared’ citizens. Some remain just as photos, others are ripped, singed and reassembled into harrowing collages.

There are also nods towards punk and other alternative scenes; there’s a bit of partying and dancing but overwhelmingly this section is hard-hitting stuff. You feel the sorrows and howls of people living under brutal political regimes. And most of all, you realise how the camera and its ability to document is a sharp knife cutting through layers of official lies, similar to how Twitter was used to spread the truth about the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

‘Pop-ular’ charts the rapid influx of consumer culture with a torrent of images showing advertising, strip clubs, comic book characters, late-night dancers and a quinceañera. Some pictures make subtle points about the impact of global brands, such as the image of a Shell petrol station located on an avenue named in honour of Simón Bolívar, the Venezuelan anti-colonialist leader. Others just chronicle the uniquely Latin American breed of pop culture.

After the shot in the veins provided by ‘Shouts’, ‘Pop-ular’ feels a little diluted. But the overall win with this exhibition is how it hits on certain moods, feelings and emotions. You don’t get a detailed local history lesson, but you do get a refresher on why photography can matter.

By: Rosemary Waugh

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