Panel discusses photojournalist's exhibit at Penn


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“Barrios, Vol. 1,” an exhibit by Venezuelan photojournalist Carlos Beltran, is on display at the Rotunda. Beltran spoke at Penn last night.


Carlos Beltran’s “Barrios Vol. 1,” a series of 25 black-and-white photographs documenting Venezuela’s slums, now line the walls of the Rotunda, where the photojournalist spoke yesterday.

“Barrios, Vol. 1” captures the realities of life in dire poverty in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, depicting the faces of traffic watchers to school children to idlers in one of the world’s most dangerous cities.

The exhibit is the first batch of work the Venezuelan photojournalist will display before returning home to work on an accompanying documentary, “Slum Culture.”

“The media tends to focus on countries in war or known traditionally to be poor,” Beltran said last night. “It doesn’t make sense for Venezuela to be impoverished. People say, it’s an oil-producing country, so some of this work is focused on the next generation.”

The panel discussion included School of Medicine and Anthropology professor Philippe Bourgois, whose “Righteous Dopefiend” is on exhibit at Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and Naomi Schiller, a Temple University assistant professor.

“One aspect at work here is showing what is taboo,” Bourgois said. “It is great that this is placed in a university setting to show what people don’t want to see, or are too scared to see. It doesn’t offer us solutions but addresses what is forbidden.”

While the talk regarded the legwork and final photographs, audience members fired up questions on artistic and political subjectivity.

Beltran is looking in coming months to bring the project into post-production.

“In one sense every history of slum starts here,” he said. “It’s the same kind of structures everywhere; the economic reasons are the same. People get attached to slums.”

Event organizer Karla Sainz, who grew up with Beltran in Venezuela, was pleased that the mixed-media “Barrios, Vol. 1” found a forum at Penn.

“When I first saw his work, I tried to ignore it. I couldn’t bear how emotional it made me,” Sainz said. “Now, when I look at it, it follows me. The photographs do not shock but ask you to look and analyze.”

When an audience member asked Beltran to name his favorite photograph, he pointed at one stark image of a young girl celebrating communion. “I got attached to the family, I know the girls’ name, I was invited me to festivities. I like the joy of the girl running toward her mother in not an ordinary place.”

“Barrios Vol. 1” will remain on exhibit the Rotunda this week. Philippe Bourgois’ “Righteous Dopefiend” will remain at the Penn Museum until May 2.

Editor's note: This article has been edited from its print version to reflect that Beltran called Venezuela and "oil-producing country," rather than an "all-produucing country."

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