IN AN EXHIBIT at the Boston Public Library that closes tomorrow, Carol Ginandes '69 has brought together a remarkable collection of photographs from her 15 years of travel in Latin America.
The photographs, taken in Costa Rica. EI Salvador, Peru, and Chile, capture the complexity of Latin American life in both rural and urban settings. Ginandes, who studied under master photographer Minor White, has been photographing the people and places of I Latin America since 1968 when she went to Argentina on a Harvard Summer Fellowship.
On that first visit she did not plan on taking many pictures. But after completing thesis research in Buenos Aires she decided to explore the country with a $99 travel pass and a camera. Her photos were good enough to help secure a Fulbright to Chile the following year.
The careful presentation of the photos in the Library's Great Hall greatly enhances the exhibit. Not arranged chronologically or by country, the photos are hung in select pairs on panels that separate the show into mini exhibits with distinct themes and moods.
One panel--a series of inlaid walls and ancient colonial doors still in use--shows the passage of time richly through layers of pastel paint. A Pepsi logo can just be noticed disappearing under splotches of local color.
On others, fine photographs of ruins and landscape open up a continent containing much that is wondrous. But throughout the panels are pictures that capture single events: a group surrounding a Santiago evangelist, a Peruvian dwarf, a religious procession.
Some of these panels hold insights that are perhaps more challenging. Three schoolgirls walk arm-in-arm down a street besides a pink formal building in a better part of a Chilean town. Two wear uniform-white smocks and the one dressed differently glances over her shoulder as all are oddly compelled forward through the photo's composition.
In the photo placed beneath them, two boys cut with large knives pieces of sugar cane before walls of crumbling brick. They are cutting the cane for a snack as is common in Chile--and in the dirty sunlight, mudged and rumpled, they share a friendship as happily as the well-dressed schoolgirls above them.
When this is considered along with the next panel's photo--a meticulously maintained post-office and beneath it a wall streaked by angry acronyms and a hammer and sickle--one can't help but get a sense of that nation's social landscape.
WITH THE SHOW'S refreshing absence of shrillness, we see the part of Latin America's essence that is contrast: between the land's vast indifference and the struggle to live within it meaningfully between guarded privilege and persistent hardship.
Although Ginandes acknowledges these contrasts, she said in a recent interview that her main interest is to portray the people she encountered especially the rural, indigenous and poorer people she admires for "their close contact with the land and over-whelming good humor despite hardship."
Fortunately, in Ginandes' work there are no noble peasants or rustic archetypes, but instead there are individuals making delicate adjustments to life in difficult places. These impressions are conveyed with an impeccable sense of composition and a relationship to subjects that are compassionate but sober. The individuals own sense of importance is movingly present.
A young Costa-Rican mother holds her first child with pride-before a simple house made grand through her own decorations. An aging Gaucho upon his horse pauses, surrounded by the Argentine plains, in a moment of quiet dignity. From these photos we see that the photographer genuinely cares, and viewing these pictures, so do we.
Ginandes managed to enter the private lives of people in small towns who were unaccustomed to outsiders. She recalls sharing an afternoon with an older Costa Rican woman. Ginandes had photographed her holding a colorful parrot to the delight of a small child. As they parted, the woman said, "I will carry you forever in my heart."
Aftering seeing these photographs, the statement can be well applied to much of Carol Ginandes' work.