The Cow and the Orchid: Generic Colombian Photography

Criosière, Arles; 03/07/17 to 24/09/17

In a sense this resembles the Iran, Year 38 show in as much as it is a collection of images from multiple photographers in one country, and aims to give some kind of sense of place. The key difference is that this is a collected archive of vernacular photography (as per the self-deprecating subtitle) rather than a curated show of named photographers. It does however give the uninitiated such as myself a tangible sense of a national Colombian identity – whether it is accurate or not is another matter, but it certainly came across as a coherent statement of national character, maybe even more so than the Iran exhibition.

The cow and the orchid are apparently two symbols of Colombia, representing different sides of the country; beauty and the beast. As a couple of hooks on which to hang such an eclectic collection, they are as good as any.  Much of the imagery is inherently comedic or sweetly surreal. Music plays a big part; one room is set up like a dance bar with a circle of record sleeves on beer crates serving as seats.

I came away from his exhibition with a sense of Colombia as being more playful, or at least more self-deprecating, than I’d expected.

Main takeaway

Nothing particularly profound, simply that a well-selected collection of vernacular photography with a few recurring motifs can make for a visually interesting experience. It’s the discernment and sequencing that makes this show engaging – the curator (Timothy Prus) weaves together a version of a country that is as ‘true’ as anyone’s without claiming to be definitive.