Ariel Ramos, 50, is tearing out coca leaves to be processed into coca paste, a substance that can be smoked or used for making cocaine powder. “I don’t need to move to sell coca paste, the buyers come to me. It is easier than planting anything else.”

Fabiola Ferrero

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Fabiola Ferrero

Ariel Ramos, 50, is tearing out coca leaves to be processed into coca paste, a substance that can be smoked or used for making cocaine powder. “I don’t need to move to sell coca paste, the buyers come to me. It is easier than planting anything else.”

Fabiola Ferrero

When Venezuelan photographer Fabiola Ferrero first traveled to the city of Florencia in Colombia, she took two instant cameras with her. Her goal: to portray a country in limbo between war and peace. In 2016, the Colombian government and rebels from the country’s largest guerrilla group signed an agreement to end half a century of war. Though a clear path to sustainable peace is still to come.

Birds fly over a river in Caquetá, Colombia.

Fabiola Ferrero

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Fabiola Ferrero

Birds fly over a river in Caquetá, Colombia.

Fabiola Ferrero

Ferrero traveled to Florencia, in southwestern Colombia’s Caquetá department, in April 2017. Caquetá has been a key location for producing coca, the crop used for making cocaine, and has been hit hard by conflict. She stayed with a coca-growing family for a week.

Ariel Ramos and his family pose for a portrait outside their home in Zabaleta, Colombia.

Fabiola Ferrero

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Ariel Ramos and his family pose for a portrait outside their home in Zabaleta, Colombia.

Fabiola Ferrero

Ferrero established a connection with the head of the family, a raspachín or coca farmer, and with his family. She asked them to visually convey — with paper and markers — what life is like and their idea of peace.

A drawing made by a coca farmer shows his memory of government airplanes destroying his fields in 2005 as part of Plan Colombia, a U.S.-funded program to counter drug trafficking and insurgency.

Fabiola Ferrero

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A drawing made by a coca farmer shows his memory of government airplanes destroying his fields in 2005 as part of Plan Colombia, a U.S.-funded program to counter drug trafficking and insurgency.

Fabiola Ferrero

What resulted was a collaborative mixed-media project exploring the daily life of families that depend solely on income from growing coca. The project also touches on issues related to climate change and mental health in times of conflict.

Ferrero used two Fujifilm Instax cameras, an instant photography format that provides a sense of immediacy and the direct involvement of her subjects. They could interact, talk about their experiences, informally be photographed and keep the Polaroids for themselves. For a community that struggles with issues of justice, seeing and keeping the results of the interaction with Ferrero was meaningful. The work that we see is a juxtaposition of the drawings made by the local families and a digitized version of her instant imagery, creating a mixed narrative and a visceral approach to visual storytelling. The work is not only aesthetically on point, but it also provides a direct connection with the characters in her story. They are the co-narrators of the story, and their point of view is as important as Ferrero’s.

An ex-member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a leftist rebel group, poses for a portrait in Zabaleta.

Fabiola Ferrero

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Fabiola Ferrero

An ex-member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a leftist rebel group, poses for a portrait in Zabaleta.

Fabiola Ferrero

NPR caught up with Ferrero recently for a conversation about her work. The following are edited excerpts from the interview. Instant photography is such a different approach to documentary storytelling. Why did you choose it for this work? My idea was to photograph a short period of time, the days between a nation in conflict and a nation in peace. So the instant cameras contribute to the concept of a moment that will only exist briefly. I visited these areas right after the peace agreement was signed. The incomes of the Zabaleta community are based on coca plants. Almost all the families depend on this, and they were being asked to replace their crops but didn’t have any reliable option to sustain their children. So, mixing the instant images taken by me and the drawings about their hopes and fears made by them was a way to portray a mental state of uncertainty, of limbo.

Left: A girl stands in front of a snake found in her house in Zabaleta. Families live surrounded by snakes, rats and all types of insects. Right: A man touches one of his horses outside his home by the Zabaleta River.

Fabiola Ferrero

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Left: A girl stands in front of a snake found in her house in Zabaleta. Families live surrounded by snakes, rats and all types of insects. Right: A man touches one of his horses outside his home by the Zabaleta River.

Fabiola Ferrero

How was your approach and collaboration with the families and people you worked with in Colombia? I lived with the family of one raspachín [coca harvester] for a week. I brought the instant cameras and a notebook for them to draw. Then I just talked to a lot of members of the community, and based on those interviews, I asked them if they wanted to visually explain something related either to the conflict they lived through or the peace they hoped for.

Men watch a cockfight on a Friday night in Zabaleta.

Fabiola Ferrero

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Fabiola Ferrero

Men watch a cockfight on a Friday night in Zabaleta.

Fabiola Ferrero

I also made portraits with the instant cameras for them to keep, and I would love to come back someday, when peace is finally a reality, and see those portraits in their houses. This was made less than a year after the peace agreement was signed, and the amount of coca crops was at its highest point in decades. So, the mood was of both celebration and skepticism. I wanted to pay attention to coca farmers because the increase of coca crops was seen as the biggest threat to peace: Where there are drugs, there is usually violence. The farmers I met chose this path because it is paid better than other plantations. [Coca] is not as heavy as potatoes or corn, for instance, which would cost them money to transport, and they don’t even need to transport anything, because secret buyers come to them personally and pick up the crop. They were also promised financial help to substitute their crops, but at that moment hadn’t received it. These campesinos are not growing rich, quite the opposite: They barely have water access, for instance. It doesn’t seem like it is a problem with a sustainable short-term solution. It involves deep structural reasons behind it.

Anyelis, age 7, plays with the light outside of her home.

Fabiola Ferrero




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