From February 6 to June 5, 2016, the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain will present for the first time in Europe a comprehensive retrospective of the work of Fernell Franco, a major yet still under recognized figure of Latin American photography. A photojournalist by profession, Fernell Franco developed a powerful personal body of work that addressed the precarious and conflicted nature of urban life in Cali, the city where he lived and worked for most of his career. The exhibition will bring together 140 photographs from 10 different series he produced between 1970 and 1996. It will also reveal the importance of Fernell Franco’s work within a broader cultural context, as part of the vibrant art scene that emerged in Cali at the beginning of the 1970s, marked by a spirit of collaboration amongst a diverse community of artists. Representative of the artists who emerged at this time, Oscar Muñoz has been commissioned by the Fondation Cartier to create a work specifically for the exhibition as a tribute to Fernell Franco and a remembrance of their fruitful artistic collaborations.
“In the countryside at night, there is the spectacle of stars in the sky. What I saw in contrast when I arrived in Cali were that the stars were on earth.” Fernell Franco.
Fernell Franco first came to photography out of necessity.Displaced as a child by the bipartisan violence that raged in Colombia between 1948 and 1953, he was among the thousands who had fled the countryside to settle in Cali’s poor marginalized neighborhoods. He began working at a young age and learned photography on the job as a messenger in a photographic studio, then as a fotocinero taking pictures of people in the streets. In 1962, he was hired as a photojournalist for El País and Diario Occidente and later worked as a fashion and advertising photographer for magazines such as Diners and Elite. As a photojournalist, he came into daily contact with the violence and inequalities of Colombian society, documenting urban uprisings and rural massacres, as well as the cocktail parties of Cali’s elite.
During this period, the city of Cali was undergoing a period of tremendous growth and transformation, spurred by the influx of rural migrants who had, like Franco, been displaced by La Violencia as well as by the developmentof the sugar industry. At the same time, an incredibly vital artistic community emerged, transforming what was once a peripheral city into an important cultural center. Introduced to the realmof art and culture through his work as a photojournalist, Franco would become a part of this vibrant art scene which included the talented writer Andrés Caicedo, filmakers Luis Ospina and Carlos Mayolo and artists Ever Astudillo and Oscar Muñoz, sharing with them a fascination for popular culture and an interest in urban themes that had previously been unexplored in Colombian art, film and literature.