The David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies awarded four Latin American photographers and journalists in their open call competition for work about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Curated in collaboration with ReVista — the Harvard Review of Latin America — a jury of five Harvard-affiliated scholars, curators, and artists reviewed 200 submissions from the region. Jurists selected photographs they thought accurately captured “the collective isolation” of the pandemic.
Marcela V. Ramos, who serves as the art, film and culture program manager for the Rockefeller Center said her desire to help Latin American artists who may have been struggling informed the decision to host the open exhibition, citing the pandemic as an obstacle to hosting in-person exhibitions.
“At some point, we thought: ‘What can we do to help and support, in my case, the arts?’” Ramos said. “Because the exhibitions were not possible in situ as we used to, we view arts as one of the areas in which [it] was very complicated for people to continue their jobs and definitely have less opportunities.”
The four competition winners hail from Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru.
Rodrigo Abd, an Argentine photojournalist based out of Lima, Peru, won first place for his collection of photos documenting the grave toll of the virus on the latter country’s domestic and migrant workers.
In one of his entries, Abd made it a point to demonstrate that Peru suffered from one of the worst COVID-related death tolls, impacting vulnerable Venezuelan migrant workers who have to collect dead bodies.
Yan Boechat, a Brazilian journalist who scored third place in the open exhibition, submitted one photo from his series "Manaus: Death in the Amazon."
In Boechat’s submission, a distressed woman grasps her chest as bystanders shout to get medical attention. Brazil’s COVID-19 death toll is second only to the United States’ with more than 171,000 people dead as of Nov. 28, according to the Associated Press.
June C. Erlick, ReVista’s Editor-in-Chief, noted that picking Abd and Boechat’s photos for the exhibition would work to draw the press's attention to the pandemic’s effects on Latin America’s working class.
“I think when you read about Latin America, and there's not that much to read about Latin America, in U.S. media these days,” Erlick said. “These images are a way of conveying that situation.”
“The title, collective isolation is certainly true in the United States, as we're practicing social distancing, and wearing our masks and not going to parties and, you know, not hanging out at Bartley’s, but in much of Latin America, people couldn't even go out of their homes, unless they were essential workers,” she added.
Both Erlick and Ramos emphasized that history was another motivating factor behind the photo exhibition’s conception.
“We’re living in a very unusual situation right now,” Erlick said. “Where generally, whenever we go through a crisis, like a war, you’re not thinking about how are people in the future are going to look back and see this crisis, and understand this pandemic, and remember this pandemic.”
“This could make a difference in terms of historical memory,” Ramos said.