The Study of Photography in Latin America: Critical Insights and Methodological Approaches

BAS editor Nathanial Gardner sets out the vision behind his new book.

Why write a book about the study of photography in Latin America? The answer can be found in your response to the following question: when was the last time you wrote something about your life, and when was the last time you took a picture about something related to your life?

I would guess that you have probably taken more pictures about your experiences than you have written about them.

Am I right? You are not alone. Studies of film and television are part of the growing field of cultural studies of the Spanish-speaking world as it focuses ever more on the visual.

Photography is part of the visual representation of our lives. Most people take part in this day-to-day visual representation, as seen in our ever-growing participation in social media and other platforms.

Photography has been called the most democratic form of representation. We all participate in it as creators and subjects. We trust it. It is least vulnerable to outside influences. When coupled with text (such as context and other historical information), it can become a powerful way of understanding the past and the present. It is more successful at including groups who are less likely to be included in other portrayals of history, such as women, children, migrants, the disabled and other underrepresented groups.

This is why it is a field of study that has been growing in recent times.

The Study of Photography in Latin America is a pioneering book. It meant travel throughout Latin America, conversations with local experts, time delving into archives, and countless hours studying images. In fact, one of the new insights this book offers is the over eighty photographs that have not previously circulated outside Latin America.

While it is not a coffee-table book, The Study of Photography in Latin America is a key new source of refreshing visual outlooks on the region. Through its pages readers are connected to scholars, archivists, photographers and photobooks that expand our understanding of Latin America and the methods used by those working in visual studies there.

One striking take-away from this book is that the study of photography in Latin America is extremely interdisciplinary. Most of its scholars work across a variety of fields such as anthropology, history, media and communications, philosophy, visual arts, and more. Academics there work closely with local artists and archivists, and often their work on photography is incorporated into exhibitions and public art displays.

One important difference is how critical theory is used. While in English-speaking countries, theorists can frequently become the centre of cultural essays or books, in Latin America theory is often used as scaffolding while a study is being set up, but then mostly taken down in the final version. This means that the photographers, their work, and its impact on society are the central focus.

The Study of Photography in Latin America not only reveals new ways of studying photographs, but also shares scholars’ findings with us, opening our minds to new ways of understanding the world. For example, it reveals that an isolated (and well documented) discovery of photography occurred in Brazil more than five years before the daguerreotype was patented in Europe. This study opens your mind to new ways of thinking about photography, whether on your phone, on its own, in your classroom, in an exhibition, or as part of a text and image project.

The Study of Photography in Latin America: Critical Insights and Methodological Approaches is published by the University of New Mexico Press and is now available via