Looking Back on Colombian Photographer Nereo Lopez (1920-2015)

Nereo López, Carnaval De Blancos y Negros, Pasto, Colombia (1962).
Photo: Courtesy of UPB Medellín.

Known to be one of Columbia’s first photo essayists, photographer Nereo López shot photographs for Time, Life, and Brazilian magazine O Cruzeiro during his storied career, which lasted decades. The award-winning photographer counted Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez and painter Enrique Grau among his friends. He died on August 25, reports Art Nexus.

By 1950, López was documenting the everyday strife of Columbia’s countrymen through a sincere and empathetic approach to photography. “My job was to make stories about human beings,” he told the New York Times in an interview. “And most of them were poor.” But he emphasized how he captured “poverty, not misery.”

Nereo López, Brasilia (1962). Photo: Courtesy of UPB Medellín.

Nereo López, Brasilia (1962).
Photo: Courtesy of UPB Medellín.

According to the Times, after a few decades traveling and shooting, in 1987 Lopez put every cent he had into starting Ensenanza y Cultura Fotografica, a photography center, which had a gallery, darkrooms and a library. But after what he called poor management, he was forced to shut the center, donating its 1,200 books to the national library.

In 1996, López was appointed the Regent’s lectureship at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and in the same year awarded the Cross of Boyacá, the Colombia Republic’s highest honor.

López relocated to New York on an artist’s visa in 2000 and became a citizen five years later. After moving to the US, López had lectured at Harvard in Cambridge, Mass., and his work was featured in a 2012 exhibition, “Caribbean: Crossroads of the World,” put on concurrently at the Queens Museum, El Museo del Barrio, and the Studio Museum in New York.

“Nereo was the eyes of a great deal of Colombia for the past six decades,” curator Elvis Fuentes, who organized the show, told artnet News via email. “From humorous events to popular traditions to ordinary life, his images look always fresh for his was the gaze of a humbled man attentive to the wonders of simple life in a country torn apart from civil war.”

Nereo López, Bar in a working-class neighborhood, Barranquilla, 1954. Photo: via Artforum.

Nereo López, Bar in a working-class neighborhood, Barranquilla, 1954.
Photo: Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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