24 Dec, 2014 | Alejandro Loayza Grisi

Culture, Social issues and Art

Cables, advertisements, meaningless graffiti; posters, billboards and political propaganda: these are only some of the things that mark our urban landscape in La Paz. Practically every wall or street that you position in front of the camera is overpopulated, overwrought with elements that an artistic director would hardly place within the bounds of an optic frame; especially if the subject of the shot is something other than the streets themselves.

La Paz continues to be beautiful, a city that is highly interesting in terms of photography. But if we look at the past and contemplate photographs of the city taken at the start of the last century, it is inevitable to feel sad or ashamed about the rundown state of our city. One feels sad over the irresponsible way in which we have managed our visual environment, failing to recognize the importance that it truly deserves.

Like we do with other things in Bolivia, we take our urban landscape for granted. We think that it will always be beautiful, that it is one-of-a-kind, that it will always be that way. We are overly confident in our topography and we comfortably sit on a bench with our arms crossed, waiting for tourists to come, who will always be eager to photograph our Oh Linda La Paz.

Everything verges on contradiction and contributes to the debate because the neon-coloured posters, after all, have their own esthetic and personality; and the buildings that have been erected practically without height restrictions add personality to the city. The freedom to do things at will, without obstacles or regulations, has shaped our city, a city that grows and is only defined naturally, by the inexorable laws of space and time.

In our day-to-day in La Paz we see the type of coexistence that marks our city, the syncretism that defines it. The things that make it unique and bestow upon us invaluable photographic material, which is why the goal cannot be to Europeanise or Americanise our streets and urban landscapes. Wanting to take pictures here like the ones people take in Paris would be a big mistake. We need to maintain the essence and personality of our city, but a minimum standard needs to be urgently established if we want to maintain the attractive features of our city.

You don’t have to go far to find good examples. In the historic centre of Sucre, in Bolivia, all commercial posters follow a certain style and the houses are all painted in white. The city of Cuzco, Perú, has preserved the esthetic of its historic buildings and forced Mcdonalds and Starbucks to operate without billboard ads. We need to establish premises such as these in la Paz, where we actually have a big advantage in our favour: the city is enormous.

As an exercise, we could focus exclusively on the historical district of La Paz, which urgently needs to be revitalised, and needs to have all wires switched underground as a priority. The influx of cars needs to be further restricted in the city center. The courthouse needs to be relocated and with it all of the lawyers and photocopy shops. We need to restore the houses, the doors and the streets.

Cities definitely enter more through the eyes than through the other senses. For this reason, from the perspective of photography in times of visual contamination, I have given myself the space to reflect on an issue that every urban specialist, photographer, artist, tourist, citizen and authority should be considering.

"If we look at the past and contemplate photographs of the city taken at the start of the last century, it is inevitable to fell sad orashamed about the rundown state of our city" 

Photo: Courtesy of Estudio Gismondi


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