Juan García Salazar was born in 1944 in the northern Esmeraldas province of Ecuador. For almost fifty years, “Professor Juan” ―as he was known at the university where he worked― took his camera with him on his travels through the mountains, the coastal communities of the Ecuadorian Pacific, and the Valle del Chota. He documented the knowledge, lives, and collective memory of the Afro-Ecuadorian community through his gaze. His inquiries led him to perform research around the world, in a wide range of places, about peoples with African roots.
The pictures presented here from his Afro-Andean archive are a reflection of the fragility of culture and seek to conserve the memory of communities of African descent in the region. His is one of several efforts by individuals who, often going against the grain, have managed to document and preserve fragments of a story that has been systematically erased and whitewashed.
These solarized images, which have evident technical flaws, are part of a reality that has officially been concealed but that keeps getting unearthed, day after day, through the efforts of Juan García and of the researchers of his archive at the Fondo Documental Afroandino.
In Mascarilla, in the Valle del Chota in Ecuador, the landscape becomes rocky, lunar, galactic. Weightless tornados form, carrying messages and whispers of both recent and ancient stories. Legends that grandmothers tell, that have been conveyed through music and song since the dawn of time, from the place known as the “Valley of Blood and Death,” since our ancestors came here after leaving behind Africa’s distant shores. Stories that explain the world, love, and death, that inspire fear and describe secretive traditions.
It is the women who anonymously make the town survive. They give birth to the stars and take care of them. The stellar orbs take shelter in the night and float about. If people run into one of them, they will forever lose their human form. They will turn to dust, the dust we are all made of: stardust.
This long-term project contains images that reinterpret the intangible heritage of the African-Ecuadorian community of the highlands. It represents the day-to-day life of a people through symbols drawn from the oral history recited by the region’s inhabitants. It is a celebration of the imaginary space of a community that dreams, as all communities do.
A photographer and filmmaker, Isadora Romero explores the frontiers of the image between fiction and reality. Her work focuses on forms of human self-representation, oral memory, and the role played by women in non-official historical narratives. In 2017 Romero was awarded the Premio Fotoperiodismo por la Paz “Juan Antonio Serrano” and was a finalist for the Inge Morath Award of the Magnum Foundation, as well as being nominated for the Premio Brazil-Arte Emergente. In collaboration with Misha Vallejo she has published the book Siete punto ocho (RM, 2018), which gathers testimonies of survivors of the 2016 earthquake in Ecuador. She is currently a member of the Women Photograph initiative and contributes to the Instagram account @everydayecuador.