Guatemala is known for its magnificent volcanic landscape, compelling Mayan culture and beautifully preserved colonial buildings. It’s hardly surprising that such a dramatic setting would be inspirational, and some of Latin America’s most renowned photographers hail from this small Central American country. Here are some Guatemalan photographers you should know.
Luis González Palma
Born in 1957 in Guatemala City, Luis González Palma is a postmodern Guatemalan photographer. He studied architecture and cinematography before turning to photography, and since 1989 has displayed his work in over 58 exhibitions in America and Europe. Palma is of mixed European and indigenous heritage, and his work often focuses on the plight of the Mayans in Guatemala (although some critics have branded his photography exploitative). Palma’s work uses symbolism, collage and layering. In his portraits he often uses a sepia tint everywhere but the whites of the eyes, which serves to intensify the gaze.
Juan José de Jesús Yas
Though he was actually born in Japan, Juan José de Jesús Yas established himself in Antigua, Guatemala and was one of the most famous photographers of the late 1800s. After visiting Guatemala in 1877 Yas moved to Antigua, converted to Catholicism and began a career photographing the clergy, churches and ritual objects. Yas’s photographs of Antigua’s religious buildings provide us with some of the best documentation of life and Catholicism in Antigua in the 1800s.
María Cristina Orive
María Cristina Orive is a Guatemalan photographer who has worked extensively as a photojournalist and is known for founding the publishing house La Azotea. Born in 1931, she began her career in France and Spain before moving to South America, where she photographed Eva Perón and the funeral of Juan Perón. Orive founded La Azotea publishing house when she was just 30, and has been known for championing the work of many Latin American photographers, particularly women; she published the works of Annemarie Heinrich, Grete Stern and Adriana Lestido early on in their careers.
Alberto G. Valveavellano
Born in Guatemala City in 1861, Alberto G. Valveavellano is considered Guatemala’s first landscape and sports photographer. As a child he had a talent for painting and drawing (he was known for sketching his classmates and teacher while in class), and as he grew up he applied this talent to photographic techniques. He made a name for himself taking portraits of local socialites, and his work was published on a biweekly basis in the La Ilustración Guatemalteca.
Carlos Lopez-Barillas is perhaps Guatemala’s best known and most celebrated modern photographer. Born in Guatemala City, Lopez-Barillas began his career as a fashion photographer for the magazine Amiga. He then became a news photographer for Prensa Libre and the Associated Press (AP) before moving to Europe in 1996 and becoming independent. He is regularly featured in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Boston Globe and has covered the conflict in Northern Ireland, the Zapatista rebel uprising in Mexico, and several armed conflicts in Central America. In 1994 Lopez-Barillas received a replica of the Nobel Peace Prize medal for his documentary work.