Text: Juan Esteban Constaín
Photos: Santiago Harker
In this book, photographer Santiago Harker—with a superb prologue by Juan Esteban Constaín—manages to capture something that is supremely difficult in his technique but that the Colombian land has in full force: its rhythm. A careful selection of unpublished images from the most different points of our geography show us a country rich in tones, textures, colors, chiaroscuros... that only Harker's "magic eye" can capture. The miracle of water is present and “sounds” throughout these almost one hundred pages, reminding us that it is the main wealth we have and that we must take care of.
Tierra Colombiana is also a call – through the beauty of the images – to be aware that we are in an infinitely diverse but fragile and beleaguered country, that here it is not just that things “give” themselves, but that they must be preserved and defend them so that the sound of the green and colorful landscapes is the greatest inheritance that we leave to future generations.
“The Count of Keyserling, a German philosopher from the beginning of the last century who in his time many people read and who today almost no one remembers, that's life, said that South America was like the world on the third day of creation : a convulsive prodigy of beauty and mystery, a kind of unfathomable abyss overflowed by its rivers, its mountains, its sky and its sun. Keyserling spoke of the "poetry of loneliness" that springs from all the pores of the new world, especially ours, that of this 'Ladina America' that one day Germán Arciniegas celebrated and described like no one else: everything here really seems to be in an augural and unprecedented moment of creation, on the verge of being consummated but also on the exact eve of it happening. In Aristotelian terms, the landscape of these lands that we are shows us the moment in which things go from potential to act.”
“That is perhaps the most moving and amazing thing about Santiago Harker's photos from this book Tierra Colombiana that in them there is a kind of 'movement', in them everything is happening or is going to happen. They are beautiful photos, of course, so beautiful things that seem to have been painted by a great poet who knows how to paint; and perhaps they are. But it is not only their
beauty that marvels us, but the deep and burning force that all of them radiate. I see the first one, for example, and almost at random it is the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta between the mist and the clouds seen from above, one would say that in the morning twilight, although due to the light it could also be that of the afternoon . There is already a story and an enigma: What was the time in the world when Santiago Harker took that beautiful photo? We don't know and it doesn't matter because then we notice, very quickly, the composition of that
image that astounds us and leaves us speechless, as if we were witnessing it. And in fact we are witnessing it, that is another great virtue that the photos in this book have, that they take us into the very moment in which they were conceived and executed and perfectly captured the totality, the greatness, the beauty of that place and that moment that now we can also see.”
“In this case of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the sky has (or is) like an ocher and amber mantle, its luminous presence colors everything, even the mountains, steep and dark as if they were made of bronze. But a beam passes through them, a cloud or a gust of wind. “It is there where it would seem that the photo is in motion, that is how we see it happen.”
“I continue randomly through the photos in this wonderful book and I find, on page 19, the Gualí River canyon in the Nevado del Ruiz: it seems more like an image of the planet Mars, like those that we can now see more and more and better thanks to the ships that NASA sends and that are colonizing it and revealing it in all its nuances, textures and colors. But here, in this photo, what moves me again is the movement, the river that rushes and falls and in which we see the tumult of its waters not as a static fact, which is what
What photography is about as art, I suppose, but rather its vigor, its violent march that is seen there as a white torrent between the thick fog of the sky, above, and the rocky, red bed of the volcano that really seems like it was from Mars. .”
“We do not bathe in the same river twice, said a Greek philosopher, and when we see this photo we immediately feel the nostalgia of never having bathed in the one that it gives us and reveals to us just when it is going to continue on. For those who have and exercise what the unforgettable Franco Volpi called with the help of Nicolás Gómez Dávila, the "erotic reason", this photo can be an inexhaustible source of motives and speculations, a treasure.
What happens is that you look at the next page, page 18, and the contrast is shocking: the Martian landscape becomes like a prehistoric holy field, a burning cemetery of stone gods that is as if they were nailed there and populated with foot, among the vegetation that covers them and gives them life. They look like phalluses, too, in case anyone wants to continue on the lookout for erotic reason: thin, feathered, porous phalluses, although I think
"They are cacti, I don't know, and one would want to blow on them as if they were a dandelion."
“On page 30 there is a photo of Guaitarilla, Nariño: the grass is all yellow because it must be a wheat field and in the background, the outline of a mountain, half of it, crosses it in backlight. Then there are a couple of hills, already illuminated, burnished. And the best thing is that from one of them, as if it were a volcano, a rainbow is born or falls there, because it also seems as if it were raining from the sky. It is incredible that something like this exists, this photo is rather the testimony of a miracle. But if you look closely you realize that the miracle is another, perhaps, that of those who live in those houses that can be seen to the left and in the distance, barely hinted at. There are people who wake up every day and what they see is that: a wheat field, a mountain and a rainbow.”
“I continue at random, it is inevitable, and on page 42 there is a photo of the Tatacoa desert, in the
Huila. It looks like a city from 'Arabia Deserta', it looks like a kingdom that one reaches and behind whose doors there is a palace - you can see it in the background, on the left - and there is also a rainbow in the sky. On page 43, right there, we are at the rear of the kingdom: his army comes out to guard it, they are little green soldiers standing up to fight. In the background there is a
sanctuary and a cross. In reality they are cacti and one could open them and eat them with the conviction that they are a thorny watermelon, but the important thing is that it is another civilization: a trip to that place is not a trip in space but in time, these photos are a narrative trigger that allows us to fantasize about the Colombian landscape.
Just look at page 45, after moving away from the ancient kingdom of Tatacoa. Now we are in Purificación, Tolima, and more than a painting, the photo we see is an engraving from the 19th century: one of those scenes from a book like Pierre D'Espagnat's, Memories of New Granada, for example, with a man in his boat ready to cross the river. What is impressive here are the colors, because in the 19th century life was still in sepia or black and white.”
“In this image, however, the river seems and is a mirror: the dense trees on the other bank are reflected in it like an invitation and a promise, because that is what they are, and in the foreground there is a meadow covered with the foliage of a solitary and unique tree that seems to be removing its own roots with one arm; If not, that tree is leaning on a cane: entire years, centuries, of watching people's destiny pass by always from the same place. His imposing presence there is also a compassionate and beneficent presence, that of an old man who lovingly observes others. That's what that tree looks like: a contemplative and wise old man who sees how his son, or a friend, is finally going to embark. Two pages later, on page 47, there is the famous Caño Cristales in Meta: a waterfall of pure waters flows into a crater. On the right side, the bottom of the river is all pink; On the left side, a dinosaur shows its snout, its gaze is skeptical and provocative, to tell the truth. It is likely that this is the place the man on page 45 is looking for; stalking his trail he is embarking, the tree looks at him with nostalgia and pride.”
“On page 50 we see the Caquetá River (I suppose it is the Caquetá River: not only chance but also intuition and ignorance, and the fascination with these landscapes and these photos that eternalize them) in a crazy dance: its Waters then spill like milk between the enormous rocks covered with mud and moss. On the next page, page 51, the same river descends peacefully and tiredly, crossing a promontory that we see from above and in which there is a water hole: a glowing crater in which a cloud is reflected.”
“Look at page 53, look at the Tuparro River: the sand is a backwater in which those polished and bathed stones lie down to sunbathe. It looks like that painting called A Bath at Asnières, by Seurat, only much better. On page 61 you can see the Maipures stream; You can also see the footprints of a giant who was there, saw the sky enraptured, and then continued on his way. It is the same sky on page 62, only at a different time: the Tuparro River looks like an astronomical observatory, below you can see the outline of the Earth.”
“The photo on page 70 is Juanchaco, in the Valley. A huge cave, an open mouth from whose jaws you can see the sky and the Pacific Sea. It also looks like the bottom of a whale, you can hear its loneliness. The same solitude of the famous Boyacá bridge that is here on page 78: the cradle of the country - although Miquel Antonio Caro said that it was
Antonio Nariño's library -, tiny and almost like a toy. How is it possible that all those people who the chronicles later said were in the battle of August 1819 fit in there? Nobody knows, nobody believes it. Bolívar advanced towards Bogotá to give the news of the victory. He was slow on his horse, hanging on to it as if instead of winning he had lost; It was dark under the night, as Virgil says in the Aeneid. And when I was about
Upon reaching the city, he was encountered by General Hermógenes Maza, who mistook him for a Spaniard and went, spear at the ready, to kill him. Bolívar barely saw him with disdain and contempt and told him: "Don't be an idiot," and he continued on. What would have happened if Hermógenes Maza killed the Liberator that day? Nobody knows, nobody believes it. There are inconceivable photos in this book: one of the Otún lagoon that seems inverted: you can see the naked and stunted trees, the blue and limpid water, the yellow and sandy land above. If one were to turn it around (the reader may well do so, on page 17) it would look like the sky that meets the desert on the horizon. The trees are now rays and sparks, but the landscape is the same. I don't know why they never taught us geography like that at school, and if they had
In fact, we would love this country much more and we would know it well, how could one not already want to know a country that is capable of producing these scenes that take your breath away. Is Colombia the most beautiful country in the world, as so many inflamed with patriotic fervor say? I don't know nor do I care, perhaps everyone says the same about the place they were born. But something is very clear to me when I look at these photos of Santiago Harker in wonder, and that is that there is no country more photogenic than ours.”
See page 20, I can't stop on my random and happy journey: it is the Siecha lagoon but what stands out is a frailejón. Solitary and bright in the shadow, its leaves are the blades of a star. See page 25, the Páramo de Cruz Verde: I would say they are chontaduros bathed in oil but no, they are stones. What is impressive about the image, once again, is the movement, the traction of a moment that is happening there forever.
and thanks to the exceptional art of the person who was able to capture it and now offers it to us as a miraculous object that we never tire of contemplating. That is what great photographers achieve, challenging the soul of things. Santiago Harker undoubtedly is, and this book is overwhelming proof of it; More than a book, it is a jewel, overflowing with beauty and mystery and colors and textures. Wherever you open it you will be moved, I say again that there are landscapes here so beautiful and so large that they cannot be. It is that poetry of solitude that the Count of Keyserling spoke of, the world on the third day of creation. Our world, furthermore, our country. One day Juan de Castellanos said about him:
“There are infinite islands and abundance of sweet lakes, spacious fields, mountain ranges of very long distances, lofty mountains, dark forests, lands to cultivate of great substance.
“Green forests, delightful meadows, crystalline fresh water fountains, diversity of excellent fruits.”
"Good land, land that puts an end to our sorrow"? Who knows. But Colombian land as we had never seen it before, here displayed from the beginning to the end. An absolute paradise, I hope those of us who inhabit it learn to do much more to deserve it.
Text by Juan Esteban Constaín.