The series of photographs titled ‘Coque’ and exhibited at the Sextante Gallery explores through the creative lens of photographer Fernando Cruz surreal scenes of a pre-industrial Colombia where precarious brick factories operate and chimney stacks still loom over green fields.

Similar to the etchings of England’s Victorian landscape scarred by dark “Satanic Mills,” Cruz’s work dates back three decades when he first started capturing brick ovens on film. “I found the ‘Chircales’ (artisan brick factories) interesting. Located on the fringes of Bogotá, I consider them part of our city’s heritage,” he states. Concerned that the belching structures would be relegated to the scrap heap as the metropolis continues to tear away at land for housing projects and industrial parks, the socially-motivated photographer set out to document as many as he could to help keep a collective memory of them alive as well as, enhance the visual history of this capital.

The visual artist began to focus first on rudimentary coke ovens, visiting rural areas near Bogotá, as it coincided with the workshops of Salón de Artistas in nearby Tunja, to which he was invited. Already familiar with the towns of Tausa and Sutatausa north of the Sabana de Bogotá and where makeshift coal mines have been operating for decades, the photographer began to notice the presence of beehive ovens where coal was being processed into coke. He captured many photographs of the mines and their chimneys; some still operating, others forced to shut down due to harsh economic times.

This exhibit includes nine large-format color prints, 10 medium-sized scenes on matte paper with pigmented inks as well as, two one minute videos of roaring ovens and kilns.

Beyond depicting the real and working landscape, Cruz’s photographs reveal a passion for sacred and holy places. As Graham Clark writes in his work The Photographer, in this mythology of “creative sight,” photographs allow one to see what we would otherwise not.

Fernando Cruz developed his images first as black and white, but when the printing process started he realized that the wealth of nature’s colors, the power of the flames in the fire and the stark contrast between pastoral tranquility and angry furnaces was lost; so he decided to print them on color paper.

Cruz’s images are charged with meaning and adhere to a “practice of signification”: where a relationship between image and context is established as to what we see, and the social context to what remains “hidden.” In words of Clark: “Far from being a mirror, the photograph is one of the most complex and most problematic forms of representation.”

For Cruz, there’s been no conflict between analog and digital. “I believe photography deals with only one theme, with many technical aspects. Ever since the beginning of photography many interventions on the image have been made.” Cruz has mastered the camera understanding why certain frames must be shot vertically or horizontally as well as, the need for certain apertures or speed. Unlike other photographers who play with illusion and scale to make the viewer question if their images are real, Cruz employs only the necessary tools to communicate his ideas of social change and the transforming power of fire.

Galería Sextante – Arte dos Gráfico / Carrera 14 no. 75-29.