This work has been about incarceration and the prison system in Venezuela, has been as well about the roots, causes, and consequences of the cycle of violence that engulfs the country, it has been, and is still, about hip hop and youth, about education and culture, but with time and through a lot of pain and smiles, fear and celebrations, and lessons learned with hugs and hits, I have realized that this work is about hope and dreams, it is about resilience and not giving up on them, on myself, on us as a collective goal.
This work is finally about the happiness of seeing the shadow of death vanishing from their faces as they grow, change, and get closer to crossing the line of salvation after the neverending exhausting run of today's Venezuela that is at the same time a marathon, a sprint, and an obstacle race. The multifaceted Venezuela with endless layers of joy, fun, and tragedy, of a revolution that forgot and betrayed the ones it sworn to protect and of people keeping their heads held high while struggling for air...for money, for food, for dignity.
For almost 8 years I have been extensively documenting the story of Free Convict, a Hip Hop collective born inside the General Penitentiary of Venezuela, a prison built for 750 inmates that had at some point 10 times its capacity. Their life inside a prison under total control of the bosses of criminal bands that with their own arsenal of weapons decided on the functioning of the prison, the unwritten strict criminal code of behavior, and the lives of the inmates. They were as well the organizers of the parties, the administrators of the visits, the sponsors and coaches of the sports activities, and were even in charge of the infrastructure as the government has virtually abandoned its duties towards the prison and the care of the persons under the state's responsibility.
Through photography and with documents, interventions, collages, and collaborative work this project aims to interconnect the dots of childhood, adolescence, education, exclusion, family, the nocive mirage of power and aggressive masculinity, and the reality of fast death or hard work for self redemption. And how these young men living in a system that sees them as a lost cause, and with all the odds against them, built their own plan for reinsertion.
A long journey surviving a prison where a bad word could literally mean 70 shots but also where solidarity is vibrant and the most important tool for survival. A long journey with their families waiting for a life signal after yet another massacre at the prison but also sharing hugs and hopes. Accompanying them back to the street and its challenges, becoming adults, becoming fathers, taking responsibility and control of their actions, surviving the machine of extrajudicial executions and the set of accounts of their past lives. All that with music as a reason and an excuse. Loving life more than the speed of drugs and weapons, and finally and for real, contributing to the reconstruction of Venezuelan life by putting their experiences in front of younger generations to help them avoid the abyss, and breaking the cycle of pulling the trigger or receiving the bullets.
In September 2022, I published the photobook “Esos Que Saben” (Those Who Know) with Raya Editorial. The book has been shortlisted for the Aperture – Paris Photo Photobook of the Year Award. It has as well been selected as part of the “20 Photobooks of the Year” by TIME Magazine and received the “Mention of Honor” for the Photobook Award at PhotoEspaña 2023.