Changing the Focus: Latin American Photography 1990-2005

February 14 - May 2, 2010

Organized and curated by MOLAA, Changing the Focus: Latin American Photography 1990-2005 is the first survey exhibition to be presented in the Los Angeles area of Latin American photography and photo-based art generated between 1990 and 2005. The exhibition explores the artist’s personally-charged response to local and global issues grounded in the contemporary Latin American experience. Over 83 works created by 37 artists range from traditional photography, to manipulated digital photography, installations, light-boxes and photo-based art.

During the 1990s Latin American photography finally gained a strong foothold in the international art scene and took advantage of thematic and technical innovations to generate a new aesthetic, especially after the emergence of the digital media. The transformations in the photographic art world developed at the same time as deep sociopolitical changes. All these sociopolitical circumstances had an effect on the artistic production. As a result, the critical discourse of the photographic medium of the last two decades approaches reality using a variety of languages, from more conceptual solutions to more traditional answers.

The works presented in the exhibition are organized in three sections; each focusing on different ways artists chose to represent reality: The Documentation of Surroundings, the Theatricalization of Real and the Construction of an Artificial Reality.


The first theme of the exhibition is the examination of surroundings through the representation of mostly urban space and the use of found photographs and objects, usually related to social conflicts and the contradictions evident in the development of the metropolitan areas of Latin America.

Several of the photographs that show architectural images are by Manuel Piña and Carlos Garaicoa and relate to the end of social and political utopias formulated in the previous decades. Works by Melanie Smith and Jaime Avila deal with issues of overpopulation in major cities of the region.

The approach to the objects and their documentation develops from a perspective where artists use decontextualization and recontextualization as means to stress the subjective power of the image. The works are grounded in the critique of the reality shown in the original found objects. Violence is one of the most prominent subjects of this section which includes works by Juan Manuel Echavarría and Milagros de la Torre.


Moving towards the manipulation of reality, the works in Changing the Focus become theatricalized images. This is especially true of those related to issues of identity. In this section the body is a bearer of identities and social roles through photographs in which theatricalization is used as a questioning tool.

The 1990s saw a distancing from the issue of cultural identity. Up until that point it had been an important subject typically approached through anthropological and documentary images. In the 1990s identity developed as being something individualistic rather than collective, thus the proliferation of self-portraits.

There is a special interest in themes related to the syncretic religion of Santeria by artists such as Mario Cravo Neto and Marta María Pérez Bravo, pre-Hispanic imagery by Tatiana Parcero and Gerardo Suter and the identity of different social classes, especially of those who are members of an affluent socioeconomic group which is shown through the work by Daniela Rossell and Natalia Iguiñiz.


In the last section of Changing the Focus irony is combined with artificial often kitsch settings where reality is increasingly distorted yet criticism or reinvention becomes more evident. The works in this section raise questions about identity, violence and different religious issues.

Artificiality serves as an escape route from a reality we do not want to face, and simultaneously, it makes us question that reality, which the artist has made artificial. Artificiality becomes a much more complex exercise than that of a documentary image. Artists may approach artificiality in different ways; by using an irreverent aesthetic such as Nelson Garrido does, to a more transgressive one used by Jonathan Harker or a playful style such as the one Liliana Porter employs. However, ultimately the works presented in this section and throughout Changing the Focus show the heterogeneity and the intercultural character of Latin American photography.


Changing the Focus: Latin American Photography 1990-2005 is organized by the Museum of Latin American Art and curated by Idurre Alonso. The exhibition is presented by the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Charitable Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Robert Gumbiner Foundation, Verizon Wireless, Arts Council for Long Beach, City of
Long Beach, Los Angeles County Arts Commission and the Annual Exhibition Fund. Media support is provided by ABC7, KCRW 89.9 FM, La Opinion, LA Weekly and Telemundo.