I am a Colombian-American photographer. My work bridges the fields of artistic and documentary photography using a range of digital and alternative photographic processes. Over time my focus has shifted from a personal exploration of my experiences as an immigrant in United States to global concerns of cultural diversity and human rights in my native country. Since 2011, I have been documenting indigenous people in South and North America, affected by mega-projects and violence that are imposed on their territories, changing their lives and cultural survival.
My current work ESX/COCA, is an ethno-educational photographic project that seeks to deconstruct colonial and postcolonial visual narrative of the coca plant through a series of portraits taken at the Wasak Kweswesx School in the Nasa indigenous reservation of Toribio, Cauca, Colombia. There, children are educated in the Yuwe language and in the rites of the coca plant. ESX, which means COCA in Yuwe, aims to educate the public on the sacred nature of the coca leaf and its uses through the experience of the school.
I photographed the Nasa people with a large format film camera and printed the images with the antique Platinum-Palladium process. This approach achieves an aesthetic result that successfully links the faces of the present to the past. As a group, the photographs pay tribute to the long history of struggles by the indigenous in the Andes to defend the millennia sacred coca plant and other aspects of their cultural heritage.
Since 2011, I have also been documenting the crisis of forced displacement and confinement suffered by the Embera and Wounaan indigenous people due to the Colombian armed conflict and by mega-projects. My investigation of the Embera displacement grew to the point that I created a project entitled: Akadoi Ebera-Hope of the Embera. Today, my main focus of study is centered on the mercury contamination on the Embera indigenous by the Urra Hydroelectric Dam and the negative effects the dam has been causing them after 20 years.
In America, I photographed between 2016-17 the situation of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Reservation and their fight as Water Protectors to defend the Missouri river from contamination due to the Dakota Access pipeline. The Dakota-Lakota were at the forefront of an environmental, political and human rights movement. Helped by indigenous and eco-activists from around the world, they battled the last segment of the Energy Partners Transfer (ETP) pipeline next to the reservation of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, in North Dakota,under NODAPL. To the date, there has been four spills.
For an earlier self-published book, Diaries of Death (2010), I photographically re-enacted the death of the victims of the massacres committed by paramilitary groups, basing the images on testimony collected by Human Rights Watch in Colombia. These images are printed with the lith photographic process, to convey the sinister quality of the events depicted.
Stone Faces (2008) deals with the enrichment of cultural diversity and identity in United States of America produced by the phenomena of globalization. I produced a series of multiethnic portraits and printed them on stones using an alternative photographic process. These photographic sculptures are conceived as stele, appearing as ancient portraits carved on stone.
For two other self-published books, I created imagery accompanied by original poems that tell personal stories of love and death through dreams. In Encounters (2011), to love is to transform and to be transformed; the lovers forget death in an attempt to make the instant an eternity. The beauty of the platinum-palladium process enhances the painterly, dreamlike quality of the images. In Dreams and Nightmares (2007), using myself as subject, I explore the labyrinth of femininity.
My work has been exhibited and lectured in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and America. I graduated from Indiana State University with an MFA on Photography and an MA on Hispanic Literature. A BA on Communications and Journalism from Universidad Externado of Colombia. I have taught photography and alternative photographic processes in Colombia and America and written and photographed articles for El Espectador,The Guardian, and Tribune-Star.
All content © 2015 by Alexandra McNichols-Torroledo
Photo by John Gardner
Photo by John Gardner
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All content © 2016 by Alexandra McNichols-Torroledo
Photo by Mic Orman