Hernandez-Salazar, Daniel. So that All Shall Know; Photographs by Daniel Hernandez-Salazar/Para que todos lo sepan; fotografias de Daniel Hernandez-Salazar.
Hernandez-Salazar (1956) is a Guatemalan photograph who has focused on the violence of the civil war in Guatemala. As Rigoberta Menchfi Tam observes in her brief preface to the volume, "Over the years [Hernandez-Salazar] has geared his talents to capturing the links between memory and the dignity of victims and survivors of genocide" (x). Far more than a photojournalist, Hernandez-Salazar has sought, not to aestheticize violence, suffering, and death, but to use his camera to provide insights into the intense human experience of the effects of genocide. If on the une hand his photography contributes to the memory of the victims, on the other it provides the nonparticipant--international academic--spectator with highly studied interpretations of the violence in Guatemala. Understandably, this is not an "objective" exercise, and Menchu's prologue quickly establishes the way in which Hernandez-Salazar works from the perspective of Guatemalan subalterns and their suffering at the hands of the dynamic of repression that, particularly the repression of indigenous societies, that has been an integral facts of Guatemalan history, with the particularly display of social violence that occurred in the second hall of the twentieth century.
The photographers work as it is collected in this volume falls into several categories.
The first is that of a more journalistic nature, in the sense that it captures a particular moment in the ongoing process of social violence. These images are both in color and black-and-white, and they focus on the display of of the chief advocates of the indigenous peoples during the violence, on April 26, 1998, the project resulted in the publication that same year of a four-volume treatise, Guatemala, nunca mas. The image of the poster--that of an angel--is the cover of the published volumes and the basis of a separate project by Hernandez-Salazar, to which I will return in a moment.
The second group of photos is the dossier "Eros + Thanatos," which deals with the assassination of individuals during the violence. In the case of these images, the photographer moves away from the journalistic idiom of the photographs described above to engage in complex photocompositions, both in terms of the staging of subjects and in the execution of large photographic canvasses which are made up of individual photographs mounted together. For example, the opening image (number 27), that of "Eros," in which the individual is displayed in his full physical glory, prior to the series of photographs that represent Iris assassination, dismemberment and decomposition. The fact that it is not the same individual in the entire sequence is irrelevant, since this is not a documentary representation, but a densely artistic one; the image also include the same image of the angel of the posters used in the march protesting the murder of Monsignor Gerardi. This image, "Para que todos lo sepan," is the overarching icon of Hernandez-Salazar's photography as represented in the Texas book. The agent is as much the resurrected human subject of the violence in accord with the promise of religion so present as one dimension of the movement of protest and reclamation (hence the importante of Gerardi as religious leader) as he is public crier who articulates the demands for justice and revindication.
I have just used the pronoun "he" with reference to the Hernandez-Salazar's angel, although it is customarily affirmed that angels have no sexual identity. Yet Hernandez-Salazar's images of a male individual who moves from full being in the world through torture, death, decay, and redemption are highly erotic and, I would insist, homoerotic, in nature. The sexuality of the individual, despite the evocation of Christ's passion, is forthrightly masculine, with the sort of unstinting display of the details of masculinity as to echo customary gay male beefcake. Ah example of this might be image 32, "Christ of My Passions," in which what is an image of a fully offered reclining man is superimposed on the frame of a wooden cross. Equally typical homoerotic poses are involved in images 30 ("The Path of Pain") and image 33 ("Ascension"), in which the nude body is posed in conjunction with railroad ties, perhaps instruments of the system of state that crush his humanity. In addition to complying with an idealizing masculine physique, the languor of the models here contrast with the aggressive stance figures of police authority in the journalistic sequence.
The final set of photographs takes up the image of the proclaiming angel of "So that All Shall Know." In this case, Hernandez-Salazar provides a documentation of the dozens of public sites, within Guatemala and internationally, where the image of the angel has been displayed as an immense poster of buildings and other edifices; in the case of Guatemala, some of them are those of the state whose actions have been those of repression and murder. Borla because of its size and because of the transgressive nature of the angel, what Hernandez-Salazar's photographic sequence in this case captures is the transformation of public space---which is recorded in part by the inclusion of individuals reacting to the image--in conformance with what the angel represents: the clamor for justice and revindication. This image of an angel is transgressive because it is a manifestly sexualized male. Although his genitals are not in evidence, the rest of his body is anatomically accurate in a fashion not customarily considered angelical. Moreover, it is the nonwhite body of an indigenous man, whose hair is hardly the flowing locks of conventional iconography, nor more than the gesture of proclaiming, hands cupped around his mouth (which allows the display of his fully tufted axilla), is conventionally angelic. Finally, his wings are those of the shoulder blades, such as of the skeletons found in the mass burial sites of the victims of state terrorism.
This is a rich and complex photographic record. Hernandez-Salazar goes beyond just the recording of the public traces of violence in Guatemala (an honorable goal in itself), to engage in highly artistic montages that provide a narrative of the assault on the human body and its destruction. But like his angel of redemption, Hernandez-Salazar demonstrates how human life can never be totally exterminated. His photographic art is not a transcendence offered for the toll of the acts of extermination, but rather the record of how the attempts at extermination will be told and retold in the preservation of human memory and the dignity of the individual.
David William Foster, Arizona State University