Alberto Baraya


Expedición Urabá from the “Antropometrías aproximadas” series (4 photographs)






28 x 38 cm


Inkjet print on cotton paper

As part of his “Antropometrías aproximadas” series, Alberto Baraya undertook an “expedition” to the Gulf of Urabá, which, in the 1960s, became the banana-growing heartland on Colombia’s Caribbean coast as the area was sheltered from violent storms. The rapid growth in Ecuador’s banana production between 1940 and 1950 led to a drop in prices and Colombian growers had to increase production to compensate. The Urabá region then became Colombia’s second largest agricultural exporter, a position it held until the 1980s when the armed conflict—caused by the state neglecting the country’s social problems—led to fighting between left-wing guerrilla groups such as EPL and FARC and the new paramilitary groups. Baraya’s recently taken photographs show that the banana industry still has a strong presence in the area. In these images, Baraya is photographed using some of the anthropological practices that first appeared in the 19th century to use physiognomy to measure and study the human body. The relationship between photography and anthropometry is particularly strong because the two disciplines converged in the early days to create a strict surveillance protocol that attempted to link the body’s physiognomic features to criminality. Anthropometry was also used to endorse racist theories which underpinned pseudo sciences such as eugenics. Baraya’s photographs, however, question and overturn these tenets. In his images, it is the white artist who is now the study object while the banana workers—who are mainly of African descent—use different instruments to measure his head. Both Baraya and the workers are shown in profile in the images, in the style of the aforementioned scientific photographs from the 19th century. However, the backgrounds break with this scientific tradition, which tended to place the subjects against neutral backgrounds or measuring scale devices. In Baraya’s photographs, the banana context of the workplace is obvious, anchoring the actors in the images into a specific environment that is imbued with a violent past.