Near the intersection of Chestnut and 37th streets, located in the International House, is a hidden treasure — the Lightbox Film Center. While its focus is on showcasing indie films, the nonprofit theater is currently partnering with the Da Vinci Art Alliance to feature a photo gallery called “Lens on Latin America.” The gallery showcases innovative techniques in photography while taking inspiration from Latin American history.
Curated by David Acosta and featuring the work of 17 artists, the gallery is an eclectic look at beauty and strife in Latin America. A wide range of styles, subjects and mediums are featured, from black and white photographs to colorful digital collages.
The collection is showcased in a relatively small room not far from the entrance to the Lightbox Film Center. I have to admit that, at first glance, the space is a little underwhelming. But the closer I looked at the photographs on display, the more I came to appreciate the diverse and powerful work showcased. There is an extraordinary amount of local talent on display from both emerging and established artists, all with distinct artistic voices.
One of my favorite pieces in the gallery is “Estrellas.” The black and white portrait by Ada Luisa Trillo features a beaming woman with gleaming metal stars — called “estrellas” in Spanish — on her teeth. It’s a striking image that captures a moment of pure joy; contrasting with her dark hair and dark shirt, the woman’s face almost seems to glow. There is a real sense of intimacy to the portrait, a testament to the photographer’s skill. Looking into her eyes, I felt a spark of human connection with this mysterious woman.
Many of the works on display capture ordinary individuals in a way that makes them appear extraordinary, such as the mesmerizing “Village of the Widows” by Harvey Finkle. A group of women of varying ages sit side-by-side in traditional clothing, their faces inscrutable. The title of the photograph only adds to the mystery. I was equally enchanted by “Benito” by Sonia Gonzales. In the photograph, an older man in muted clothing sits beside a vibrant mural. While the mural drew my eye first, I ultimately found myself captivated by the kindly expression on the man’s face.
While I can’t speak for the photographers, I did notice a thread of social commentary running through all the works. Many of them celebrate aspects of Latin American culture, from Dia de los Muertos to ancient Aztec dances. Others draw attention to the political situation in Latin American countries, such as “Cooperative Fruit Workers Housing” by Gary Grissom, which portrays the harsh conditions faced by agricultural workers. “Man with Saint Che” by Marvin Greenbaum features a man displaying his tattoo of Che Guevara, highlighting the legacy of the controversial revolutionary 50 years after his death.
One of the more frustrating aspects of the gallery is that the photographs are presented without commentary. Only the name of the work, artist, year and medium are given. Many of the artists are hard to track down online, making it difficult to find the artists’ perspectives on their work.
I was, however, able to uncover the backstory behind one of these pieces — “O quarto do artista” by Celeste Mann, a professor of Spanish at Drexel, was taken in Ouro Preto, Brazil in 2013. The photograph, washed in rosy light, shows the interior of a room, a gauzy white curtain obscuring half of the composition. Behind the curtain is the silhouette of an enigmatic figure.
Here is the artist’s description:
“Locals claim that the father of sculptor, Aleijadinho, once lived in the house over 300 years ago. There is a mysterious figure in the window, perhaps the legendary Curupira wandering outside the forest? The billowy white fabric alludes to Brazil’s romantic spirit, tinged with saudade, a bittersweet nostalgia.”
It’s an alluring piece, capturing the romance of present-day Brazil as well as the echoes of its rich history. Like so many of the pieces in the gallery, it blends aspects of the past and present in a compelling look at Latin American culture today.
“Lens on Latin America” will remain on view at the International House until March 22.