Field Notes Photography Exhibition Showcases Student Research in Latin America

Each fall, LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections invites graduate and undergraduate students from all departments and disciplines across the university to submit photographs to the Field Notes student photography exhibition. Thirty images are chosen for display in the Benson Latin American Collection. Through these images, student photographers document moments from their research on Latin America or US Latina/o communities.

In addition to showcasing student research, the exhibition awards prizes of $250 to two student photographers. The winning photos are chosen in a blind competition by a panel of faculty and staff.

Fall 2019 marks the tenth anniversary of the photography show, originally conceived by Adrian Johnson, librarian for Caribbean studies and head of user services at the Benson. In this Tex Libris post, we give a glimpse of this beautiful and varied exhibition, and invite readers to visit the Benson to view all of the photos.

The announcement for Field Notes 10 used “La limpia,” show in the Field Notes 9 show, and taken in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, by LLILAS PhD candidate Nathalia Ochoa.

Through her research with Mexican migrants in Austin, prize-winner Maribel Bello created the Facebook page Rancho Querido, which she calls “an emotional-visual-exchange bridge” for sharing of images showing everyday activities in Mexico. Her winning photo shows children playing hide-and-seek. Bello is a master’s student in Latin American Studies at the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS).

“Yo mejor me escondo,” by Maribel Bello, was taken in La Cueva, Guanajuato, Mexico.

In his untitled prize-winning photo (below), Arisbel López Andraca, a PhD student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, depicts a religious procession in Havana, Cuba. López has been researching the visuality of “daily religious practices” in the streets of Havana, noting the considerable increase in the circulation of “dressed dolls” or “spiritual dolls” as representations of orichas, spiritual entities, or eggungun.

“Untitled,” by Arisbel López Andraca, taken in Havana, Cuba, shows a woman carrying a dressed doll in the procession of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre.

LLILAS PhD candidate Ricardo Velasco looks at “cultural initiatives for memory and reconciliation in the context of Colombia’s current transitional justice conjuncture.” He conducted ethnographic research in Comuna 13, he says, to inquire about “how youth visual culture has contributed to the transformation of what once was one of the urban epicenters of Colombia’s armed conflict.”

“Comuna 13, Medellín,” by Ricardo Velasco. The photo depicts the built environment of Medellín as seen from Comuna 13.

Pablo Millalen Lepin, a LLILAS PhD student, studies public policies toward indigenous people in his native Chile. His photo reflects the meaning of ranching and livestock ownership for Indigenous Mapuche families, for whom “the possession of an animal can be interpreted as part of the local economy, and/or the promise of future work, principally in the area of agriculture.”

“El pequeño toro solitario / The Lonely Little Bull,” by Pablo Millalen Lepin, taken in Lof Mañiuko, a Mapuche community in the South of Chile.

To see and enjoy all of the photographs, visit the exhibition in the first-floor corridor of the Benson Latin American Collection during library hours. Exhibition runs through December 2019.

Feature image, top, taken in Boyacá, Colombia, by Sofia Mock, undergraduate in Plan II.

Read, Hot and Digitized: This is Not an Atlas

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship. 

This Is Not an Atlas is a continuation of a book of the same name, subtitled “A Global Collection of Counter-Cartographies.” Critical geography proposes that maps are never neutral, but rather reflect views of the map maker, often those in power. Counter-mapping, or creating counter-cartographies, refers to the use of maps to reframe the world in such a way as to challenge dominant power structures and to articulate alternative, progressive and even radical interests (Kitchin, et al., 2011).

In the spring of 2015, kollektiv orangotango, a self-described network of critical geographers, friends, and activists who deal with questions regarding space, power, and resistance, sent out a call for maps in English, German and Spanish. Overwhelmed by the response and realizing that many of the maps submitted are dynamic, they decided to create a website to, not only highlight projects from the print edition, but also to “continue to share maps, struggles, projects, texts, and inspirations online.” Here I highlight a counter-mapping project that successfully deals with the politics of in/visibility, as described in Emancipatory Mapmaking: Lessons from Kibera.

Map Kibera was initiated after a group of geographers attending a mapping conference in Nairobi, Kenya noticed that Kibera, one of Africa’s largest informal settlements, was not mapped. In fact, they discovered that authorities had labeled and designated the Kibera Slum as a forest. How could a community with an estimated population of 250,000 people be omitted from official maps of Nairobi? Two geographers who were also interested in open source mapping decided they wanted to change this. In October 2009, Mikel Maron and Erica Hagen started the Map Kibera project to address “the glaring omission of roughly a quarter-million of Nairobi’s inhabitants from mass communications and city representation and policy decisions” (Hagen, 2011).

Current (09/09/2019) image of Kibera in Google Maps.
Current (09/09/2019) image of Kibera in Google Maps.
Detail view of Kibera in Google Maps yields little detail about the community.
Detail view of Kibera in Google Maps yields little detail about the community.

Kibera is too densely populated to rely on satellite data for mapping. Maron and Hagan knew they would need to map it from the ground. They recruited a dozen young residents to be “mappers,” gave them GPS devices, and sent them to collect data by creating “traces,” a GPS-enabled process that tracks and records your physical location. The mappers interviewed residents and collected observational data, such as the names of clinics, schools, and businesses, locations of water pumps, public baths, and other “points of interest” along their routes as well. The team then added the data to OpenStreetMap (OSM), a crowdsourced world map that relies on user-generated content to create geographic data that is relevant and available to everyone. And within three weeks they had created an incredibly dense map of Kibera for the world to see. But more importantly, a map of Kibera that was extremely useful to residents.

Kibera in OpenStreetMap (09/09/2019)
Kibera in OpenStreetMap (09/09/2019)

The project did not stop there; they immediately created, printed, and distributed maps of clinics and schools within the community. And a security map of Kibera warning of areas to avoid and illustrating places to get help. And have since formed the Map Kibera Trust, created the Voice of Kibera, a platform for citizen reporting, and replicated their model in other marginalized communities in Nairobi.

Map Kibera is just one counter-mapping project highlighted in This Is Not an Atlas. Visit the site to discover situational maps defending traditional territories of the Amazon; a documentation of human rights violations in Rio de Janeiro’s Favelas; an anti-eviction mapping project that started in the Bay Area and has expanded its scope; a crowdsourcing project that helps people locate public toilets in an Indian megacity; and many more counter-cartographies.

The book is as beautiful as the website; visit the UT Libraries to see it in person. If you’re interested in learning more about critical geography and counter-mapping, I highly recommend Rethinking the Power of Maps and the Map Reader. Map Kibera initiators, Erica Hagen, and Mikel Maron later founded the Ground Truth Initiative. Visit their project page to find out about other counter-mapping projects they are working with, such as Grassroots Jerusalem.

Whit’s Picks: Take 6 – Gems from the HMRC

Resident poet and rock and roll star Harold Whit Williams is in the midst of a project to catalog the KUT Collection, obtained a few years ago and inhabiting a sizable portion of the Historical Music Recordings Collection (HMRC).

Being that he has a refined sense of both words and music, Whit seems like a good candidate for exploring and discovering some overlooked gems in the trove, and so in this occasional series, he’ll be presenting some of his noteworthy finds.

Earlier installments: Take 1Take 2Take 3Take 4, Take 5

Parts & Labor / Stay Afraid

Available at Fine Arts Library On Site Storage

Brooklyn’s Parts & Labor droned and thrashed in somewhat obscurity for exactly one decade (2002-2012), but left behind an impressive slab of noise pop albums in the vein of early Hüsker Dü, or a more song-oriented Lightning Bolt. Stay Afraid pushes the faders all the way up with its scorched earth feedback and fuzz, its electronica squeal and hyper-manic drumming, but those sugar-sweet vocal hooks are still up there in the mix (somehow!) front and center. 

Sid Selvidge / A Little Bit Of Rain

Available at Fine Arts Library On Site Storage

Selvidge, the late great Mississippi Renaissance Man (songwriter/anthropologist/radio producer/record label owner), graciously bequeaths us this collection of Americana classics, with a couple of topnotch originals to boot. His protean vocals moan and yodel on country standards such as Long Black Veil and Swannanoa Tunnel, then growl and screech on old-time rocker Real Thing. Recorded in his adopted hometown of Memphis with gorgeous and understated production by the legendary Jim Dickinson, the songs drip with Delta sincerity, simultaneously breaking the heart while nurturing the lovesick soul.

My Brightest Diamond / Bring Me The Workhorse

Available at Fine Arts Library On Site Storage

Avant pop singer-songwriter Shara Nova (previously Worden) simply sparkles and shines as My Brightest Diamond. Utilizing her classical voice training from the University of North Texas, Nova served as guest/backup vocalist for the likes of Sufjan Steven, The Decemberists, Laurie Anderson, and David Byrne. But on her debut studio album, Bring Me The Workhorse, she combines these masterful vocals with a slightly skewed, shadowy songcraft that presents something uniquely her own. The etherealness of Kate Bush; the edginess of PJ Harvey. A Goth pop instant classic.

Marc Cary Focus Trio / Live 2009

Available at Fine Arts Library On Site Storage

NYC pianist and McCoy Tyner acolyte Cary leads his Focus Trio (bassist David Ewell, drummer/percussionist Sameer Gupta) into jazz hinterlands on this mesmerizing concert recording. A droning intonation of Monk’s classic ‘Round Midnight starts things off, then the trio lets things unravel artfully with intense originals. Cary’s piano beseeches us to hear those notes between the notes while his rhythm section hard bops like a most welcome punch in the gut. Gupta’s classical Indian tabla is highlighted on KC Bismillah Khan, and audio of Malcolm X and Dr. King speeches weave their way in to the mix (Runnin’ Out of Time, and Slow Blues for MLK), adding a historical gravitas to what is already a truly heavy experience. Metaphysical, moving, and masterful.

Soledad Brothers / Voice of Treason

Available at Fine Arts Library On Site Storage

The Soledad Brothers were White Stripes garage rock fellow travelers back in the day (guitarist Johnny Walker taught Jack White how to play slide, while White produced their debut album). Having said that, the Ohio natives became more Sticky Fingers than Seven Nation Army. Their third album, Voice of Treason, finds them not only stomping and hollering tried and true swaggering blues, but also mellowing out on tracks such as the sweet and soulful Muscle Shoals-inspired Only Flower In My Bed, or the acoustic Delta-tinged Sons of Dogs. Dig that warm analog tape sound captured by UK producer Liam Watson.  

[Harold Whit Williams is a Content Management Specialist in Music & Multimedia Resources. He writes poetry, is guitarist for the critically acclaimed rock band Cotton Mather, and releases lo-fi guitar-heavy indie pop as DAILY WORKER.]

Art History Prof Shares Black Press Collection

Friend of the University of Texas Libraries and Art History Professor Eddie Chambers has curated a collection of publications for a display in the reading room at the Fine Arts Library.

Chambers’ exhibit — “Recognizing the History of Black Magazine Publishing in the US” — features selections from his personal collection that represent the burgeoning of an independent press which spoke to the experience of African Americans in the late 20th Century, and includes examples from the period of the publications Ebony, Ebony Jr!, Jet, Black World, Negro Digest and Freedomways.

The exhibit is on display during regular Fine Arts Library hours through the fall semester.

Selection of Jet magazines from the late 20th century.

What motivated you to curate the display?

Eddie Chambers, Professor, Art History: I have over the years collected, for research purposes, various magazines and journals, going back a number of decades. These magazines and journals have particular relevance to African American history, culture, politics, identity, and so on. Some of these I’ve assembled for the current FAL display. I am always attracted to vintage, archival items such as these as they enable us to get a direct feel, not only of the graphics and aesthetics of the times during which they were published, but in reading their texts, we get a direct sense of arguments, reportage and opinions, again, from the respective times.

As with so many things that carry an ‘African American’ prefix, we can perhaps trace the establishment of the Black press to a reluctance by the white-dominated media to pay proper and respectful attention to the agendas of African Americans. Magazines such as Ebony were important for a wide range of reasons including the readership’s ability to keep apprised of the ins and outs of Black celebrity lives, the ins and outs of the struggle for civil rights, going back many a decade, and the ins and outs of stories and issues that lay at the heart of African American existence. With the spectacular growth of the internet, the publishing media is in general, in various levels of retreat. This applies also to the Black press and the display points to the ways in which magazines published weekly or monthly were such an important and necessary means by which African Americans gleaned a wide range of information. And in Ebony magazine, the adverts are as entertaining as can be! It’s not hard for us to be inclined to the view that contemporary issues are different from those people thought about and acted on in decades gone by. Seeing magazines such as these, we might think, or realize, that issues we are concerned with or interested in at the present time, go back years, and decades.

Where are the materials from? 

EC: I have collected the materials over the course of a number of years. Most of the material relates to some or other aspect of my research. For example, I recently acquired a copy of an Ebony issue that trailed on its front cover a feature on the quest for a Black Christ. Sourcing this came about because I am editing a volume – the Routledge Companion to African American Art History – which contains a text by a scholar, looking at visualizations of Christ and Christianity by African American artists. I wanted to double-check quotations by her, from this Ebony issue, in her essay. Material such as these magazines and journals are not frequently available to researchers and scholars, without considerable effort, so I find myself constantly sourcing such material. Having acquired items, I am always keen to share the material, which is why I periodically undertake displays such as this, in the Fine Arts Library (FAL). Right now, I have different archival material loaned out for exhibits that are currently on view at both the Blanton Museum and the Christian Green Gallery, here at UT Austin.

Copy of Ebony Magazine with Jackie Robinson on the cover.

What do you see as the major impacts of the selected publications? 

EC: The types of materials on view represent some of the sources African Americans had to turn to, in order to read stories that reflected themselves. Television was of course very poor at offering anything that was not considered of primarily mainstream (i.e. white) interest. Black publishing — and the adverts it carried — offered a vital route through which African Americans could source hair care products or, more generally, see adverts that featured people who looked like them. The importance of this cannot be overstated.

These magazines were also an environment that stimulated and gave work to Black journalists at a time when the mainstream media was frequently reluctant to. Photographers, typesetters, journalists, sub editors, layout artists, etc., all professionally benefitted from the Black press. We might think that in the modern age, people’s attention spans might be somewhat skewed or compressed, but the stories presented in some of these Black magazines enabled substantial, engaged, complex stories to be told, as well as the lives, loves, and ups and downs of Black celebrity life, to be digested. Of course, a pocket-sized magazine such as Jet offered its readers information in decidedly bite-sized chunks.

The perpetual, systemic framing of African Americans within the white dominated media was one of them as being ‘problems’. African Americans tended to realize that the framing of them as having problems was but a short hop skip and jump away from them being problems. The formidable perception, framed and maintained by the white controlled media, of America having first, Negro, then Afro American, then African American problems was more than enough to persuade African Americans of the need to maintain, for their own sense of self, a Black press that respected the multi-dimensionality of their selfhood. The Black press enabled African Americans to see themselves not as cardboard cutout problems, but as complex human beings who existed in the round.

Of course, it must be added that African Americans relied on the Black press to carry nuanced, informed analyses of the problems they had. In this sense, a profound manifestation of empathy existed between the Black press and its clientele.

Selection of Ebony, Jr. magazines.

How did this era of the Black press influence the representation of African Americans in modern media? 

EC: Modern media is of course vastly different from publishing in decades gone by. One of the biggest influences is perhaps the ways in which white-controlled media has diversified, to an extent, its content. Quite rightly, we expect the New Yorker, the New York Times, and a slew of other media to carry stories that speak to the country’s diversity, including of course, that of the African American demographic. Diversified media content has in its own way perhaps worked to lessen the impact and importance of a distinctly African American branch of publishing. 

There is of course still huge amounts of work to be done, but at the present time, the wholesale exclusion of African Americans from mainstream media, as was the case in decades gone by, is arguably less of an issue at the present time.