There are maestros who wear their talent as a chip on their shoulder, and then, there are maestros who are equal parts talent, humility and accessibility; Jeronimo Rivero is the latter type of maestro.
Rivero moved to Barcelona, Spain from his native La Plata when he was 18 years old and initially studied guitar, but at age 25 he decided to dedicate himself entirely to photography. He started by developing photos in his Barcelona flat. That was in the year 2000. After seventeen years of being a full time photographer, Rivero says he’s older, but still a novice in terms of photography. But after looking at his work, it is difficult to believe his is but a novice.
Between 2000 and 2009 Rivero photographed for several social and human rights organizations in Spain and Latin America. During that time he photographed over 60 projects and zigzagged the contour of the Américas from Mexico to Central to South America, stopping in Cuenca on his journey. Jerónimo describes these projects as exhausting yet eye-opening opportunities that have enabled him to get to know the rural and urban of Latin America.
In 2010 he returned to his hometown to photograph for the University of La Plata. Yet, working for instituciones – non-profits and universities – was burning him out. Rivero was disillusioned by the pace and his lack of decision-making power in the process; he began to carve out an autonomous space within his own photography. First, he and several other photographers co-founded NOVA, a photography school and cooperative in La Plata. He also paired with a French anthropologist to photograph a miners union in Oruro, Bolivia. The work became Memorias del Subsuelo. Jerónimo says this was by far his most favorite project to date. It was physically taxing, technically challenging; it took a month for Rivero to gain the miners’ trust to allow him into the mines to photograph them. Rivero wanted to, “capture the dignity and the spirituality of the mines and the miners.” He confesses, “from planning to publishing, this project took a full year and I walked away with just 16 photos. But, this was the kind of photography that Rivero wanted to dive into deeper – independent, documental photography where he could approach his subject, develop an intimate relationship with the people he photographed, get to know their ins and outs, ups and downs– their vida cotidiana–life in the small moments.
Rivero’s persistence and independence is what brought him to Cuenca this past April, along with his next project, Ciudades y Ciudadanos.
In 2016, after leaving Universidad de La Plata, Rivero began working on Ciudades y Ciudadanos. This project is a reflection Rivero’s obsession with documental photography. It is based off of sociologist Néstor García Canclini’s concept of the hybrid culture in Latin America. Canclini theorizes that Latin American cities, particularly since the 1950s, are continually changing, fragmented, and are shaped by a particular mix of the elite and “lo popular.” Modern innovation and historical traditions, mainly as a result of internal migration from the campo to urban areas. Rivero emphatically says that he has witnessed these changes while traveling in Latin America during the early 2000s. Yet, as he was always on assignment, he never had enough time to exclusively explore this hybrid culture theme. That’s why he created Ciudades y Ciudadanos, to document and create a time capsule of the daily cultural and social life of three, medium-sized Latin America cities – Cochabamba, Bolivia, Armenia, Colombia and Cuenca, Ecuador.
To Rivero, Cuenca offers plenty of opportunities to photograph this mix of Latin American modern and traditional. In order to do this, he knew he would have to get to know the Cuenca ambiente and its people. This would require time, a month at minimum. So, like all talented and industrious maestros, Rivero threw himself into the culture in this city. While producing his own photographs of Cuenca, he decided to create a documental photography workshop geared toward Cuencanos; his hope was that the students would continue to document this city and their own perspectives.
Rivero contacted the Municipio de Cuenca, Prohibido Centro Cultural, the Foto Club Cuenca and Alianza Francesa, Cuenca and proposed he teach this course during the month of April. The final photography exhibition of the students’ work would be the Quinta Bolivar. He received support from these cultural institutions, and the workshop became a reality.
April 1st Rivero gave his first of four photography theory classes at the Prohibido Centro Cultural, and later at Alianza Francesa, to approximately 20 beginner to professional photography students from Cuenca and Biblian. On the first day, students told why they wanted to participate in the workshop; they each outlined their anticipated themes for the final exhibit. The group set up backdrops in public spaces – Parque Calderón, Feria Libre, Parque de la Madre – to take pictures of the“ciudadanias” who occupy these spaces. Along the way, Rivero encouraged students’ strengths and corrected their desafios–their mistakes. He also photographed on average 10 hours per day when not teaching.
Students gave an equal amount of energy to the course. They showed up in the rain to practice portraiture in the Feria Libre and spent hours mounting their pictures for the exhibit. There was a chispa– a spark- of excitement amongst teacher and students alike. All this hard work culminated in the group’s April 27 exhibit opening at the Quinta Bolivar which closed last week.
All students, like Alejandra Fernandez, produced 3 photographs to display. One Fernandez’s photos depicted the animal rights group, Patitas Callejeras, that she volunteers with in Biblian. Pedro Ramos B. focused on street life of Cuenca.
By the end of April a clear admiration and wealth of knowledge developed between Jerónimo and all participants. At the exhibit, Rivero shared that he wanted to
see a Latin America where national and local governments as well as the citizens of each country valued, supported and produced their own art. Photography here is a representation of Latin America people and culture. He left Cuenca with a lot of hope that this creative movement will continue in the city; he left with echoes of appreciation from his students’ and the cultural institutions. Filippo Feludi Serroty, director of the Prohibido Centro Cultural, was a workshop student of Jerónimo’s. Filippo says he learned not only technical aspects of photography; he also learned…
“…how to better value our culture, to demonstrate it in a way that shows the changes that we. Seeing it everyday, we take it for granted. Our teacher made me see the world through a different lens. Mil gracias, brother, Jerónimo.”