27 March 2011


As I mentioned a few months ago, Luís Bustamante is a photographer and human being I admire.
He's published two books of photographs in the past couple of years. I've been enjoying my copy of first, Brief encounter, for a year or so. The second, Confluence: 1974-1979, appeared in January this year and I bought it the same month; I should have mentioned it before now, but better late than never. Both are typically gentle and insightful views. Both (they are Blurb publications) are good advertisements for what personal control of production design can do.
Confluence is evocative in black and white. I've spent many an hour since I bought it, when I might have been writing this, lingering over its perspectives, personalities and sensuously grainy tonalities.
It was mid-afternoon on Christmas eve when we arrived in Paragon Station, Hull, from London. It was really dark, like night. And misty and cold. 48 hours before, I had been squinting in the scorching brightness of Buenos Aires mid-afternoon sun when we boarded a taxi for the airport. Carmen said this cannot be it, we are just connecting. But it was here.
In the wider world, a lot was going on. Milton Friedman's rnarket-dominated model was adopted by the US and the IMF and Pinochet's Chile became the test ground.
We were here because of this. September 11, 1973, the first 9/11, was the day things changed forever for the likes of me and Carmen. This was when the new agenda went operational.
The timespan of these photographs coincides with the moment when Great Britain went through a less traumatic battle of attrition to clear the ground for the installation of the model that had been tested in my country.
Many people helped our settling here and these photographs are evidence of their generosity. I'd always fancied myself a photographer and had been impressed with Julio Cortázar's idea of things possibly not being as they seem and photographs making us face that alarming possibility. I felt obliged to have a camera with me in the same way. Cortázar thought that if you carry a camera you have to look.
Taking photographs of the place came without much of a design. I wasn't looking back, we could hardly see ahead – we just floated in the very precise moment. I did not photograph the cutting edge, where the challenge was turning into asymmetric conflict, the expressions of discontent, the picket lines, the sense of justice on one side, raw power on the other. The lack of a political agenda was not a perceived problem at the time. The camera had two purposes: it was a connection with our new life and a shield that enabled me to look at it. The camera entitles to stare-and gives an excuse to be in the way. It provides an outsider with a chance to belong.
That last sentence, in particular, affects me very powerfully.
Take a look. A full preview of the book's contents are available on line ... nothing to compare with the delight of holding the real, physical book, but still well worth your time.

In September 1973, when the Allende government in Chile fell to a brutal coup d'état, my problems were very small by comparison. I was uncomfortably aware that the fathers of two of my former school friends from a couple of years before were now in foreign service posts implicated in that coup. It was the first time I had made a moral connection between my own life and circumstances and the wider world whose rights and wrongs I had always watched as a bystander. I would never look at my world in quite the same way again. Looking at Confluence, I feel that awareness anew, as fresh as if it were yesterday ... but I also feel its inadequacy alongside what was happening to those who left and, of course, those who could not.

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