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Art Photobook Reviews

Black by Ernesto Costante

There is an undeniable talent in being able to tell a story within the boundaries of a single photograph, especially in the somewhat opportunistic and immediate genre of street photography.

The ability to capture a moment and weave a narrative is not a unique talent, in the medium's relatively short history, a glittering lineup of practitioners has already been established. However, for every one that succeeds in connecting and enduring, countless others fall by the wayside. Not that they are bad photographers but technical mastery and soul are too different things.

Over the last few years I have been made aware of an increasingly rich vein of talent emerging from Venezuela and Black by Ernesto Costante is the most recent. Given the above statement I do not want to give the impression that this is a book of purely street photography, but it certainly plays an important role in infusing a sense of immediacy and place.

Shot in and around the Venezuelan capital Caracas, Black is a journey through the reality that pervades for many of the people that live on its fringes and ghettos. 

The forgotten and discarded, both hopeless and ever hopeful.

It seems that wherever we are in the world the gulf between the “haves” and the “have nots” continues to grow. Communities that exist under the benign smiles of governments that promise but never deliver.

And the malignant realities that manifestos and guarantees will rarely be anything other than pyrotechnic grandstanding and theatre, to those clamouring for power, essentially out to feather their own nests and feed their own egos.

This is the world through which Black guides us. 

Street kids to hospital rooms. 

Lush landscapes to wrecked cemeteries.

The cruel contradictions of the beauty of a country that would easily tempt any traveler to stay and explore. To sip a chilled cocktail or glass of wine, seated perhaps on the balcony of a perfectly positioned hotel, gazing with awe and envy at a panorama that would normally exist only in a dream. 

Only to realise that just out of view is the reality and hardship of an increasing swell of dark normality. 

The book itself reflects this, the pages are thick with black ink,and Costante's contrast heavy monochrome images lend themselves perfectly to this treatment, but beyond the density of the photographs, the word black comes to mean a great deal more.

"Black is a journey. A silent testimony, an infinite rage, a stare into my impossible longings, the monsters that inhabit me when all the lights are off and I had behind the camera. Black is an opaque mirror, concave, broken, my most painful and dim photography, the argument of invisible life’s pictures in an act of deep humility and irreverence."

Ernesto Costante.

Inequality is always highlighted by the innocents and the proliferation of street kids seen here is enough to break the hardest of hearts. For every smiling face, the tired world weary eyes of someone far older than the body they inhabit stares back.

Children are resilient but one wonders how far the harsh reality of their environment can push them.

Two kids huddled together in a picture that conjures up  the spirit of Caravaggio illustrate that the passing of time has taught us nothing. 

The young and the defenceless are always the first.

Then the defenceless. A series of pictures taken in hospitals that speak of despair and utter hopelessness. 

The last time I felt so desolate upon viewing images such as these was when I encountered Richard Avedon's 1960’s harrowing asylum images. 

This is the blackest of black.

Sometimes a story needs to be told with no guarantees of a happy ending, just a free fall into injustice and indifference. 

The idea of the rescue ship on the horizon is a utopian ideal and the notion of change, a dream to cling onto.  

If Costante's book is the distress flare, maybe someone out there on that ship will see it. 

Black by Ernesto Costante is published in an edition of 300 copies by Intervalo Ediciones.

Printed by Brizzolis, Madrid, with design by Gisela Viloria from Intervalo Ediciones, Caracas.

For ordering the book contact:

IG: @intervaloediciones


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