El Santo: The Mysterious Photographer Questioning Those in Power

All images by El Santo. Used with permission.

Hi! My name is El Santo, I am an anonymous Chilean photographer, publicist by title, but photographer of the soul. I have been with this digital project since 2015, photographing the day in day in the city of Santiago de Chile. In October 2019 I exhibited my first photographic exhibition in Santiago de Chile (specifically at Galería Montegrande, the gallery that hosted my artistic project). It is about two series called “Samsara” and “Special Forces”. Today due to the coronavirus I have decided to offer the experience of the exhibition completely free online. I think this project it’s very representative of the conflict of my country, so I think, why not share this project for the non-Spanish speakers. I will comment on these two photographic series after the questions and answers.

Why did you get into photography?

When I was a kid, I was a very creative boy, I liked to discover how the world worked. Because of this, my parents enrolled me in a pinhole photography course, I was the smallest of the group and I didn’t have much idea what I was doing. Without realizing it, I had already learned to expose in an analogous way. I am lousy at sports and in my childhood and adolescence, so I decided to dedicate myself to something else, more than playing soccer. I think it was the best decision I could make. I became interested in photography from a very young age since I found my father’s old camera that he used to take photos of us when we were little. I am a Boy who was born with the Internet, so this analog technology led to an interest in this object. I learned to quickly expose and the principles of photography, thanks to the fact that I started in the world of photography with film photography.

Then, in my teens, I saw an income opportunity in photography, which is why I devoted myself to photographing youth parties. Later in college, I cultivated this profession where I still work today as an event photographer. But a problem arose in me, photographing so many events made me feel that I had lost my soul, that interest and curiosity of knowing what will happen when I see the photo once I get it. Hence the idea of creating this anonymous character, who does not intend to magnify himself as a person, but rather to bring photography and art closer to people.

Which photographers are your biggest influences? How did they affect who you are and how you create?

Without a doubt, one of my favorites is Joel Meyerowitz, I consider that his photography has an added value as it is in color. As a street photographer I really like the way his lens impacts the environment and how it describes what he feels. The fact that Meyerowitz does the color photography seems important to me since it is a claim that because a the photograph is not in color, it should not be deep or artistic. In that sense, I am one of those who believes that color photography must be repositioned in the world of contemporary art.

How long have you been shooting? How do you feel you’ve evolved since you started?

I must have started at 14 years old, today I am 24, so I have been cultivating photography in different ways for 10 years. I believe that you always have to improve in your profession, but never forget that childish way of discovering the world that was the engine that made you get involved with what you love. Furthermore, photography is closely linked to technology, so it is very important to play with these new tools.

Tell us about your photographic identity. As a person, you have an identity that fundamentally makes you who you are. Tell us about that person as a photographer.

I want to present to the viewers of the photograph, an alternative version of its reality. Make protagonists the landscapes and activities that people ignore as a result of distraction and routine.

Tell us about your gear. Please give us a list with reasons why you choose it, and please be descriptive. We want to know how it helps you translate your creative vision.

I have a mid-range photographic gear. For events I use considerably more advanced technology than the one I use in this project, but commenting on this project:

  • I use a 5D MK I of 2005, Ricoh GR. Both in a 28mm focal length.
  • Sometimes I use the 50mm focal length and telephoto lenses, but I generally like the 28mm.

Many will ask why do I use inferior photographic equipment? Simple, because through this old photographic equipment, the limitations are a reason to focus more on what I photograph and how I photograph, beyond fixing it in post.

Natural light or artificial light? Why?

I will always go organic, natural light allows you that. However, when it comes to the light source, I like both in their own way. If I am indoors and there is a lamp on, that will be my light, if I am outdoors and the sun is there, that will be the light. If we refer to artificial light in the sense that I can control that environment, it is not attractive to me, since it could not organically represent the moments that I photograph.

Why are photography and shooting so important to you?

Because photography beyond the instantaneity that we believe it currently has, is a tool that helps us transcend as human beings. It is an extension of culture and it is like wine, there are photographs that the more time passes, the more weight and meaning they have.

Do you feel you’re more of a creator or a documenter? Why? How does your gear help?

I consider myself a bit of both. I think the challenge (and playing around with your question a bit) is creating by documenting. The gear will influence, but you are the one who occupies that gear, so it doesn’t really matter which gear you use, but where you are aiming.

What’s typically going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes, both mentally and mechanically?

The truth at the time of taking the photos, I do not know very well where I am going or what I am doing. In general, I am guided a lot by my spontaneity, I take photos at the moment they may not even have a relevant weight for me, but I keep them all. As time goes by, I edit them, and as time goes by, I put them together and align them in a concept that reflects what I want to express.

Please walk us through your processing techniques.

I use analog techniques in digital. I play with colors with the knowledge of light and I try to respect as much as possible the analogous processes with digital equipment. No sharpening, no lens distortion correction (unless it is within the plans of the photo).

Tell us about the project or the portfolio you’re pitching. Be descriptive with the who, what, when, where, how, and why.

  • Samara: It is a photograph of the suffering typical of the neoliberal experiment that was established in Chile, my country. In Santiago de Chile, there were few of us who did urban photography in 2015, a large part of the community of photographers was strongly influenced by the aesthetics of elitist art and another share by generic Instagram presets. I do not come from the capital, I come from a small city a few hours from the capital. I moved to Santiago for studies, so when I arrived and without realizing it, I found myself photographing the most uncomfortable situations typical of living in a city, public transport, poor food, mega-buildings, traffic jams. peak, etc.

In this project, I show you through my lens, the photograph of the impact of the misnamed “progress”, the destruction caused by real estate, the means of transportation used, and human automation.

  • Special Forces: it is a reflective metaphor through color that aims to generate a questioning of government authorities and the armed forces. How is it possible to generate this reflection through color? Simple, I photographed the riot police and painted them pink. The government of our country was involved in a montage for the murder of one of the leaders of the Mapuches, a native Chilean people. So I considered that it was an opportune moment to generate this gesture in which, through color, we can also express you.

The creation of this photographic work is to denounce the montages that the police have made and what the government of Sebastián Piñera has allowed.

I think it is important that you know the editing context, on which I based, the murder of the Mapuche, Camilo Catrillanca.

The Mapuche Communard Camilo Catrillanca is assassinated because of a lethal headshot, carried out by the Carabineros (Chilean police) in a confusing incident by the so-called “Comando Jungla”, a special forces unit promoted by the Chilean State for the control of “terrorist” acts. There is talk of an exchange of bullets between Mapuches and police forces for the theft of a vehicle. Witnesses assure that this event was not so. The public opinion requires evidence in this regard, arguing that the police officers of the Comando Jungla have video cameras to record the proceedings. Carabineros, admits the existence of a video recorded by Sergeant Raúl Avila; the content was destroyed to prevent the disclosure of “private images” according to the official version. The murder generates a strong internal crisis in the institution, resulting in the dismissal of the Carabineros director, Hermes Soto. More than a month ago, on December 19, 2018, the existence of three more videos is confirmed; They were released to the press and then to the prosecution by third parties. The material explicitly confirms the murder of Camilo Catrillanca by the Carabineros de Chile. In the video, Camilo is seen driving a blue tractor with a child, instructions are heard for the opening of fire and shots by the Carabineros, resulting in the collapse of Camilo Catrillanca, who is awkwardly assisted by the troops. The result is the death of the young Mapuche leader.

What made you want to get into your genre?

Because I believe that someone has to photograph what nobody is photographing, in a world full of photos.

What motivates you to shoot?

In a world as complex and in a crisis like the one we have today. Art is necessary as a tool for expression, dissemination, and registration. To offer people an exercise in real communication with themselves and with our society.

Follow El Santo on Instagram or at his website.