The Four Forces of Nature

During the 10 days we spent together as IWMF Adelante fellows in Medellin, Colombia, we had a team of local journalists who had a hand in setting up interviews, who shared their contacts with us, accompanied us to interviews and helped us understand the particularities of the places and people we were reporting on.

One of Natalia Botero’s photos displayed in the House of Memory museum in Medellin.

The four journalists who worked with us are each seasoned reporters, photographers and media makers in their own right. Natalia Botero is a documentary photographer whose images of Colombia, including her work on the long history of disappearances, we encountered spontaneously many times while we were out reporting — her photographs were made into murals that grace the city walls, and they are featured in the museum of memory.

Katalina Vasquez Guzman is a print journalist who has worked extensively on displacement in Colombia; she is also one of the editors of Generacion Paz, an independent editorial website dedicated to documenting the peace process. Maria Andrea Kronfly is a social communications expert who founded her own media production company. Gloria Luz Gomez Ochoa worked for one of Medellin’s main newspapers for many years before taking on a post at the Secretary for Women in the mayor’s office – she now teaches at the University Católica Luis Amigó.

Each of these four have a unique approach to their work and they brought a particular set of strengths to our time reporting together. All four of them also have a remarkably strong character and personality – you would never expect to find such a group necessarily in each other’s company – yet they were unambiguously close and, when they collaborated on something, were frankly a force of nature.

Reporting in Colombia is unlike reporting in many other places, and as a group of fellows, this was something some of us knew more intimately than others. Some of the fellows had traveled to Colombia before, some were here for the first time. Throughout the entire process, and especially when there were moments that we didn’t know exactly how to proceed, all four journalists had guidance.

During the last story planning meeting – a nightly occurrence that was organized to share our daily accomplishments and frustrations and plan for the following day – one of the fellows talked about her disappointment about one of her photography projects. Some of her subjects didn’t want to be photographed for fear of retaliation from armed groups that don’t welcome people speaking out.

Vasquez talked about her own experience reporting in Colombia, and said that the struggle journalists here face is often between a desire to tell the stories of the people and a concern about what kind of risk it could pose for them. Botero talked about how much of a challenge this is for photographers, who tell their stories visually. “We are trying to give a contextual map,” Vasquez said. And it’s true that without them, we would have been lost.

–Jessica Camille Aguirre