1954 - 1958


Nils BongueJan Bartelsman
Nils Bongue and Jan Bartelsman, Cali, Colombia, c.1955


This selection of photographs comes from an archive of negatives exposed between 1954 and 1958. Some personal facts are needed to explain their origin. I arrived to Colombia, from Chile, in 1953, invited  by a Dutch painter, Jan Bartelsman, with whom I had worked at a cultural publication and an art gallery, and who believed I had interesting work opportunities. I settled in Cali, bought a Rolleiflex camera, set up my darkroom and spent my free days and vacations travelling and photographing, As part of his work Jan travelled to Buenaventura frequently, and with my camera took the photographs of that port and city from which negatives remained in my archive.

In principle, photography's purpose is the registration of reality with media more permanent than the fleeting moments we can capture with our eyes. This is valid if it were to function in an automated way, but when a human being decides when and how to click the shutter, the reality documented is relative or partial. In addition, what is recorded by the camera can be manipulated without leaving traces, the final product is thus in a certain way, virtual.

There are dozens of practical fields in which documentary fidelity is most important, but there are others where the photographer can intervene, recombining the technical resources he has or invents, emphasizing here, discarding there, to achieve the final image. Unavoidably, all intervention, beginning with the choice of what is photographed, will reflect the photographer's objectives and preferences.

In this case, we came from quite different social and cultural backgrounds, which would explain our interest in better knowing the country we had arrived to, and showing it in pictures. Time took care of giving them their testimonial value, of showing in an already present future what we back then deemed worthy of being remembered. Ultimately, that's what photographers are for.

Nils Bongue, Cali, December 2014.