Luis Cobelo born in 1970. Degree in Philosophy from the University of Zulia, Venezuela. From 1993 to the present has participated in numerous art exhibitions and photography festivals worldwide, like Generation 2000, PhotoEspaña, Fotonoviembre, Getxophoto 2011 in Spain and Latin American photography Prize in Mexico. Solo shows in his native Venezuela, France, Spain, Germany, Ecuador and Argentina. Since 2001 works independently and is dedicated to the production of various projects of documentary photography in America, Asia and Europe that were published in international journals and magazines like El Pais Semanal, Rolling Stone, Maxim, 7K Sunday Magazine, National Geographic Latinamerica, Esquire, GQ, Vogue UK, Glamour, La Nación Argentina, Etiqueta Negra Peru and VICE México, Colombia and USA, among others. In 2011, he was nominated for the UNICEF Picture of the Year and in 2012 received the Hasselblad Latinamerican Photographer in documentary category. He is the chief editor of the online magazine LAT Photo Magazine, dedicated to show contemporary documental photography from latin america.
Veronica Sanchis (VS): How long ago did you begin your project Zurumbático?
Luis Cobelo (LC): 10 years ago I was in Aracataca, the place where the Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez was born, doing a story focused on the women of the book "One Hundred Years of Solitude" (I've read it 10 times and I know it by heart). It was 40 years since the book was published and a Spanish women's magazine accepted my proposal to do the report there. On that occasion, I looked for the feminine archetypes of the book in the town, the characters who carry the weight of the work, since I think it is women who guide men: primitive, savage, intelligent and necessary. Without them they would be lost, something like what happens in real life today.
When I left the village that time, I knew I would come back someday. That story was a success, so much so that photos of that time are still published. Even a very famous Colombian fashion designer used images in her latest collection. Well, 10 years later I thought it was time and I started preparing the return a year before the trip, which I did at the end of 2016. I read the book for the tenth time and this time I underlined those situations that for me are framed in the imaginary unreal and real Latin American that are commercially known as "magical realism". It was a different reading this time. I extended a lot and I enjoyed very much. I stopped for a couple of months and read it again, took everything underlined and there I found a huge list of photographic recreations. I already had a project. How would I do it? I did not know, I only knew that I had to go to Aracataca and surely there would arise what was to come. What was clear was that for the first time, after so many trips reporting the world, I was ready to make my first book. And so I did the photos, thinking about a photo book. What happened next could not have been planned or imagined.
I could say that I started this project about 10 years ago, somewhat I never knew for sure until the moment of making the trip, and becoming aware of everything, when I returned. I discovered essentially that all the photos made were a reflection of all these last 15 years of accumulating sensations of the Caribbean and of Latin America in general. García Márquez's book allowed me to enter that dimension that I call "the zurumbático tunnel", from which emerges a Latin American way of being that has always been in me, that I have explored a lot of photographically, but that this time is deepened from a root very strong.
(VS): Where does the word Zurumbático comes from?
(LC): The word I found it in the book. It is an old Spanish word that comes from Portuguese and is very musical, even graceful. It does not leave you indifferent, there are people who laughs just by listening to it. It looks like a riddle, a riddle. Almost everyone always asks how? what?
Zurumbático / a is a person who does nonsense, that acts unequivocally, that is enigmatic and melancholic, a little crazy, that has a changing temper, sometimes bad, sometimes not so bad. He cannot be more successful with my personality. If that's added a little alcohol, we already have someone half-drunk who makes match totally.
I intended to make a photographic recreation inspired by its meaning. I took many turns to make that photo until a moment arrived, a few months before the trip in which I realized that it was the perfect word to define the whole project. Above all, this word served to understand me more and guide me as a person and photographer. You can insert an unlimited amount of sensations in the word and use it for many situations. It was just perfect for my purpose.
(VS): What events occurred in your life or photographic journeys that led you to work on this project in such a liberating and vulnerable way?
(LC): Before going to realize what would be "Zurumbático" I was somewhat fought with the universe and with myself. My surroundings were a mess. I did not know it was so bad. In the process of the production of the photos in Colombia I had a particularly strange and even dramatic events, but I did not give them importance, I suppose it is something that has to do with my Caribbean character and that sensation of "trance Zurumbático" in which I was immersed. One day, I had blood pressure problems and I went blind for a few seconds. I took it very quietly, without scaring myself, I even think I enjoyed it as if I had taken a new drug. The interesting thing was that when I saw again, everything appeared slowly, as if it were revealing a photo in the laboratory. In Aracataca, the heat was so suffocating that sometimes walking became complicated, all my clothes became a sweat soup within minutes of going out.
My assistant and I had to leave early when the heat was so strong, we made a potent breakfast and took pictures for about 4 hours straight without stopping. Around lunchtime it was so hot that we did not feel like eating. For something they call the hour after lunch "the bad hour": you do not see anyone in the street. At 4 o'clock I resumed the action for two short hours as it is very early in the evening. Then all I wanted was to be in naked under the fan or drinking beers at the corner bar that had air conditioning. And at 9, after the fourth shower of the day, I was already asleep.
Almost the end of my stay there and due to the passage of a hurricane in the area, the town was completely flooded. Its streets were a violent river, passed hens, dogs and dead cats; Even a cow. Many people lost all their belongings and lived in the street during the following days until the channel went down. There was an important election in the whole country that could not be realized because everything was under water. Many people in the town spoke with exaggeration and drama of a stronger flood that would come from the mountains and that would destroy everything, which did not happen, but people seemed to love the possibility of that tragedy. We stayed 3 days without water and without light. My concern was limited to killing giant mosquitoes and suffering the criminal heat, ah, and also that snakes did not rise up the water pipes into the water.
These are anecdotes that make me think that the "Zurumbático" effect was with me. However, there are some really dramatic events that directly affected the characters I photographed, and consecuently to me. This is the case of one of the people I photographed: Mr. Silcedo.
He worked as a tailor with his little sewing machine in the middle of the street. I found it in the same place where I met him 10 years ago. He made arrangements for anything related to clothing. I had already photographed him on my 2007 trip. When I showed him that photo he was impressed by how young he looked. On this occasion, we talked about making a photo that reflects his fidelity to the Christian, a believing man, taking as an example an episode of García Márquez's book. Silcedo, a well-known and beloved town person, was murdered a week after I had pictured him, someone stabbed his heart in a fight for a cheap rum bottle. His murderer was an 82-year-old man who by that age will no longer go to jail. I heard about this murder only three months ago. The photo is called "The cross of death marked on its front". A real, crude, absurd and hot story of the Caribbean.
"Zurumbático" begins with "One Hundred Years of Solitude" but it becomes something much more powerful. Two months after the trip, my mother died while I was taking care of her. I saw how she was leaving this life in a very painful and sad way. Her departure struck me deeply. The photos lived with me while all this happened. The book, the exhibition, the video, are the result of 9 months of many feelings encountered and very few hours of sleep. "Zurumbático" has been liberator and savior. It helped me to have an illusion, and to cope with all that emotional beating that one can face after losing a dear one.
(VS): The project is divided into different layers; book, photographs and a video. Can you elaborate on their divisions, differences and connections?
(LC): From the beginning I thought of a book format. At the same time, as it marks the 50th anniversary of the first edition of "A Hundred Years of Solitude" in 2017, the story was also made to publish it in the journalistic media in which I regularly collaborate for. One of the things that caught my eye when I saw the material later in the editing process is that I did all the vertical photos and had very few horizontal ones, which tells me that I visualized the book in my head the way it eventually was edited.
While in Aracataca, I called my brother who is a musician and I proposed to do the song "Zurumbático". I only told him that I should think of vallenato, merengue, the cadence of the accordion and the music of the Caribbean. Everyone who knows me immediately sees that the photos of "Zurumbático" are not happy photos, but neither sad. My brother made the song inspired only in the meaning of the word, without seeing the photos. It's not the soundtrack of the book or the exhibition, it's just a way to take the project further, to challenge myself, because I wanted to work with my brother, to enjoy, to dance, to laugh.
And also because in a way I wanted to pay homage to my mother, who loved to dance and sing and was very vain with us her children. She would have been in the video for sure. The truth that music is fundamental for my life, it always accompanies me. My next project will undoubtedly include another song, and another video.
(VS): I am intrigued to learn some of the stories of the people you photographed. (Can you share any poignant ones)
(LC): I told you about some in a previous question. Yet, if there is something surrounding this project is death. To which I have definitely lost my fear. It will not cease to be cruel, evil or unwanted, but now I also see it as something beautiful, within the tragic that it can be millions of times. The final conclusion I made after doing "Zurumbático" and during the months of preparation of the book and the sample, is that although I am still the same person, there are many things that have changed in me drastically. And I speak of the photographic way too, which is the same as all of mine. It has been a before and after without a doubt. It is a release - not final - of certain things that I had tied in my bowels and in my head. I have not learned everything, it would be superb to say, it is only the beginning of a new stage, new, rich, freer and always more optimistic and positive.
Nor is it trying to find an explanation for everything, but without doubt the things that happened are definitely a direct reaction of my presence in the lives of the people I photographed. For a person who I was, for something that happened and what happened during and after. And if on the way I do not stop to reflect on what happened, analyze the events, and take them for a better understanding of the world and my way of being, I would be a jerk. What happens must force us to become better people, especially with our micro worlds, and with those of the other micro worlds to which we approach. To the general world I consider it already fucked up, and I do not want to spend energy in battles too gigantic, which are already lost.
(VS): You have said that Zurumbático can be many acts in life, such as, singing, dancing, falling in love and even death. To name a few examples. So I think is precise to ask, is this interview Zurumbática, if so, why?
(LC): We are all, in some way, quite Zurumbáticos. I have found a perfect dimension to explain many things. Especially in these moments where the language has been transformed and the moods are explained with emojis, I have recovered a word that was lost to define many things.
It is a reality that so many times we are melancholic, enigmatic and we all have variable, movable, bad and good temperament. Even, it’s very undervalued to have bad temper, no one recognizes it. Well, if I have bad luck, then okay, I have bad luck. And who has not done silly things? I do them every day.
Where feelings are opened, I think there will always be a “Zurumbático” effect. I believe that in this global age, many attitudes that were not before, have become in aggressions, say what is thought is frowned upon. There is an excess of radicalism, it seems that cannot be discerned. Do not fuck with me: I can be politically incorrect.
Without doubt, this interview is very Zurumbática, I have told you hundreds of things and I know that I have hundreds more to say. For everything, then, Be zurumbático / a, and that's all.