Stockholm Exhibitions 1: Jean-Marie Simon: Guatemala – Eternal Spring, External Tyranny [Fotografiska gallery]

This is the first in a series of blogposts about exhibitions I saw in Stockholm last weekend. The Fotografiska gallery is stunningly located on the tidal waterfront in Slussen. It has only been open for a year, and has four exhibitions running at a time. The downside to this exhibition is that the images were all shown as slideshows on plasma screen TVs [reflected in the poor quality of my photographs]. It would have been better to have seen prints.

These photographs – in turn harrowing, extraordinary or frightening – were taken between 1980 and 1988 during the most violent period of the Guatemalan civil war. Here’s some more info from the Fotografiska website.

In 1980, 26-year-old photojournalist Jean-Marie Simon visited Guatemala, for the first time, in order to complete a short reportage. She stayed for eight years. When Simon finally left, she had, via thousands of photographs, documented the most violent period in the country’s 30-year civil war. Simon’s images capture the cruel reality of war in one of the most compelling chapters of Guatemala’s modern history.

Jean-Marie Simon explains that the images are not intended to provide deep insights about the past or solutions to contemporary conflicts. Put simply, their greatest value lies in the fact that the photographs provide an opportunity to reflect on what was and what should never happen again. Being a young woman, a photographer, and a foreigner, in a culture rife with terror was an incredible challenge, especially when attempting to be as close as possible to the violence. The risk of being killed was great, and as a result, Simon was obliged to keep a constant look out. Simon goes on to relate that it took time to gain the people’s trust.

“Nobody trusted me at first. Either they thought I was an ‘ear’ to gather information or just an idiot. I was constantly afraid, but I considered this to be my job. I could either get out there and take the photographs or just go and hide under the bed.”

In 2010, the exhibition Guatemala. Eternal Spring – Eternal Tyranny was nearly banned from being shown in Guatemala City. Fotografiska is the first venue to exhibit the photographs outside Guatemala.

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