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Santiago Arcos Veintimilla reflects on Human Rights and Photography fellowship

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“I had been working on La Ciénega for two years before I went to New York. I had a pretty clear idea of what I was trying to accomplish with this project. There is a huge problem going on worldwide of rural migration to the big cities and I wanted to show what is happening to the littles towns that all the people come from, and what is probably going to happen to lots of other little towns. During these two years, I made sad, nostalgic photographs of the community, shady images addressing the feeling of a soon to be ghost town. 

Earlier this year, I attended the Magnum Foundation Photography and Human Rights Program at NYU. I got to share 6 weeks with other fellows and received classes. Naturally, we all showed each other our projects and talked about it a lot. I will always remember what Li Jie (HR fellow from China) told me the night before leaving, "Who will care about a little sad town?!”. She was not being mean or heartless, she was right. After all the classes with Fred Ritchin and Susan Meiselas, it was clear to us that sometimes, showing the hard, sad things about our realities may be more (aesthetically) beautiful and dramatic, but what for? Who will care about a town in decay, if I do not show them why it is worth saving? 

The people in La Ciénega who have chosen to stay have all the same reason for doing so, despite all their families living in the cities, they won’t leave the land they love. There is something about their lifestyle, a bond to the mountains, something even stronger than family, that force them to stay. Despite every problem, despite the loneliness, they stay. 

Since I returned, I have been trying to photograph differently. I have a whole new axis to work on. I am sure it will make the project more successful by showing what is really going on. I still think it will be pretty hard for this town to return to its former glory, the inhabitants predict that in 10 years, their town will be empty. I am making this story to prevent it from happening to all the other little towns that are heading in the same direction, Something must change, this could be a trigger.“

-Santiago Arcos Veintimilla

Santiago was a 2013 Human Rights & Photography Fellow. To apply to the 2014 Fellowship click here.

Katerina Voegtle