Last month, 6,300 combatants from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) concluded an historic “final march” to reach 26 demobilization zones across the country. While the guerrilla have never known their country at peace and must now adapt to the challenges of life without weapons, British photojournalist Malcolm Linton was granted access, deep in a jungle in the department of Meta, to document the final days of one of the last remaining camps of this insurgency.
The pictures that Linton presents on these pages are part of an in-depth photo project, titled “When The Ink Dries,” that will be exhibited in Colombia in the upcoming months. The exhibition is a visual document of combatants within the world’s oldest Marxist guerrilla.
Recipient of prestigious photography awards, Malcolm Linton was born 1956 in the United Kingdom and worked as a print and radio journalist before turning to photojournalism in 1989, a critical year for world events with the fall of the Berlin Wall. From covering the U.S invasion of Panama, and working as Reuters’ chief photographer in Nicaragua, in 1992, Linton joined the New York-based Black Star agency and captured the fallout of the Soviet Union’s collapse, winning a “Picture of the Year” (POY) contest for his portrait of a Georgian soldier in combat.
Linton has worked for extensively for publications such as National Geographic, Newsweek, the New York Times, Time, Der Stern, and Paris Match.
More recently, the photographer has focused on book-length stories instead of chasing the news. This change has allowed him to create complex images about people, mostly in vulnerable conditions, grappling with their hopes and aspirations. For a book project with writer Jon Cohen, Linton moved to Tijuana, Mexico, to document the city’s HIV epidemic.
With a grant from the Ford Foundation, the photographer lived among the community of needle-using drug addicts after volunteering as a nurse and running blood tests at a medical research center in the city’s red-light district. The book, Tomorrow Is a Long Time, was published in the United States in 2015 by Daylight Press and featured at the photojournalism festival Visa Pour L’Image in Perpignan, France.
After residing a year in Colombia, Linton turns his lens on FARC. His aim is to portray the men and women who form the rank and file of an organization that for many governments is still considered a terrorist group despite signing a peace accord to lay down its arms last year.
Confronting entrenched perceptions of the combatants, many of whom have been shunned and despised by much of Colombian society, is at the heart of Malcolm’s project. His images are as much about challenging stereotypes as they are about restoring some level of dignity to these Colombians.
In documenting the end of more than a half-century of internal conflict, which killed at least 260,000 and displaced some seven million, the role of the photographer is not to pass verdict, nor become a protagonist within the storytelling process.
Beyond the constantly changing frontlines, the daily body count, the plight of wounded and kidnapped, Colombia’s internal conflict struck at the very heart of families, many torn apart with the forced recruitment of children, and the many women who fled domestic and sexual abuse to join the ranks of the insurgency.
The images that have surfaced of FARC’s final days are mostly shot in color, but Linton’s eye turns to black and white in order to present a visual essay that is powerful in both its emotional empathy and compositional honesty. Linton’s photographs are more than a summary of a day in the life in a rebel camp; they are an enduring testament to the determination of a population that is emerging from a tropical jungle to reunite with estranged family and seeking the acceptance of the community at large.
FARC’s final march may have concluded, but even after the last weapon is expected to be handed over by May 31, the former combatants face their biggest challenge yet: to fight for a peace that isn’t just written on paper but bound together by human relationships.