False Memory

Dante Busquets | September 9, 2021 | Leave a Comment

Miners (detail), Minera El Cubo, Guanajuato, México 2012. Medium format, color film photographs.

“I saw the debris and the empty holes, the ghost towns, the dead tracks of the nitrate railway, the silent telegraph wires, the skeletons of nitrate fields mangled by the bombardment of years, the cemetery crosses buffeted at night by the cold wind, the whitish hills of slag piled up beside the excavations.”
– Eduardo Galeano Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent (translated from Spanish by Cedric Belfrage) Monthly Review Press, 1st ed. 1973.

How valuable are landscapes in our lives?

Landscape; the word itself, almost always paints an idyllic picture in the mind. Yet it is a scene that is rarely imagined as being occupied by anyone. Perhaps we think that they are–or at least should be–vast natural areas, free from the reckless individualist whose hand destroys everything. However, in his book “Landscape and Memory”, author and historian Simon Schama encourages us to think that there is nothing wrong with the occupation of the landscape. He tells us, “Even the landscapes we assume to be the freest of our culture may, if examined closely, turn out to be its product.” To this end, he offers an undeniable piece of the puzzle: he points out that the English word derived in the late 16th century from the Dutch term landschap, which, like its Germanic root Landschaft, indicated a unit of human occupation or jurisdiction. Schama suggests that when we look at landscapes, we see as much culture as we see nature.

Pulmón minero (Miner’s lung)
Guanajuato, 2012
Medium format, color film photograph

The book “Open Veins of Latin America,” written 50 years ago by the Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano, generated astonishing images in my mind: a once mighty mountain, holder of a torrent of precious metals, now transformed into a hollow shell; environments once fertile and unique, converted to desolate plains. My motivation for this work are Galeano’s expressive descriptions of these territories scattered throughout his work. This project goes in search of the landscapes of Latin America, plundered and destroyed for centuries by external economic interests. In documenting the landscapes included here, I have travelled extensively and photographed land that shows the accumulated effects of the extraction of resources over the centuries. In contrast, I have also photographed sites of recent exploitation. I can sadly attest that many of the author’s powerful descriptions are still valid today. 

Left:  ‘The mountain that eats men’: Potosí depicted in the 1500’s.
Map collection of the Mint of Potosí, Bolivia.
Right:  Cerro Rico de Potosí
Bolivia, 2013.
Digital color photograph

Do the scars left behind on these altered landscapes account for all which development has, and continues to devour? From 2012-2014 I documented landscapes and communities in Bolivia, Chile and Mexico that during the colonial period contributed to globally significant economic changes, at the cost of invaluable human and natural resources. Some cities became cultural and economic centres through the business bonanza, but they now hang on precariously to memories of that distant past. Nearly all of these places are being slowly poisoned by the decaying industrial ruins, left behind by those who exploited them.

Escoria minera (Mining scoria) Colonia Cuauhtémoc,
Santa Rosalía, Baja California Sur, México 2012.
Medium format, color film photograph.

With the images included here I’ve begun to explore the use of different ‘voices’ by mixing a variety of digital and analog photographic formats, using both black and white and color. Everywhere I travel I gather archival imagery with the goal of creating a dialogue between the historic record and my own audio, video and photographic impressions. I imagine these elements in an exchange of ideas and points of view, like characters interacting in a novel.

Miners, Minera El Cubo
Guanajuato, México 2012
Medium format, color film photographs

What future is there for these ravaged land and cityscapes? This is a question that I intend to investigate by continuing to explore and photograph other key areas in Latin America during the next three to five years. Like much of the world’s population today, I share the pain and anguish over the continuing damage we do to our planet, as well as suspicion about the prospects for its recovery, however partial. While the depressing story of the industrial aggressor stealing, abusing and depleting the land has been told numerous times, I want to add to the discourse how much we stand to lose by revealing the antiquity, past richness and complexity of our landscape tradition.

Pulacayo, Bolivia 2013
Large format pinhole camera, black and white film photograph.

Despite Galeano’s at times harsh accounts of destruction and abuse in the region, reading “Open Veins of Latin America” left me hopeful. The book denounces, but at the same time announces that reality can be different. In it, the author argues that a false memory has been imposed upon the Latin American identity, and that misfortune does not necessarily have to define our destiny. I am moved by Galeano’s suggestion that reality is ultimately not a final destination, but a challenge, and that we can reinvent the future, by beginning to heal our ravaged landscapes.

When was the last time you had the opportunity to place yourself in a vast natural area, with nothing blocking the view between your eyes and the immensity?

Chile 2014
Digital color photograph

Dante Busquets, Mexico City 1969. Lives and works in Berlin, Germany, since 2009.

Dante attended the San Francisco Art Institute and studied photography with artists Pirkle Jones, Jack Fulton, and Reagan Louie, among others. He obtained a technical degree from the Escuela Activa de Fotografía in Mexico City and completed workshops with Susan Meiselas, Abbas, Joseph Rodriguez, Cristian Caujolle, and Heidi Specker.

He has exhibited individually in Mexico and has participated in over 25 group shows internationally. His project Diario DeAntes received the Young Artists Grant awarded by the Mexican Ministry of Culture. He received an Honorable Mention from the Mexican Bienal de Fotografía in 1997, for his series about gang life in the city of Zamora, and in 2006 he received the Acquisition Prize for his SATELUCO project, in which he photographed families and urban areas of a well-known suburb north of Mexico City. In 2009 he received the grant Descubrimientos PHE México from PhotoEspaña, and the Leica Grant at FotoFest, in Houston TX, 2008. In 2012 he became part of the Sistema Nacional de Creadores de Arte, a 3-year program from the Mexican National Fund for Culture and Arts (FONCA), 2012-2104, with the project “The desolate landscapes of Eduardo Galeano: a visual journey through the
Open Veins of Latin America”.

This article is part of the MAHB Arts Community‘s “More About the Arts and the Anthropocene”. If you are an artist interested in sharing your thoughts and artwork, as it relates to the topic, please send a message to michele@mahbonline.org. Thank you. 

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