PHOTOGRAPHY: With a touch of magic realism, Doña Maria and her Dreams provides an exceptional journey through the mysterious world of the Venezuelan desert.
João Vilela Geraldo
Published date: September 10, 2019

100 years of solitude turned into 12 years of blood-bound companionship and hard-gained trust. A limitless dry horizon where exoticism never arrived, colour never came through the tail of a rainbow, and water is more precious than gold. Doña Maria and her Dreams, the iconic book and travel series from photographer Horst Friedrichs, which led him to win the Lead Gold Award – the most prestigious in photography – was born under the spell of real adventure and the doom and gloom of hard logistics in a Venezuela slowly disappearing into the oblivion of oil and politics, and frightfully gaining a reputation as a test tube for theory and practice gone wrong. Starting in the country’s northwest Lara State and moving in the same direction to the region of Falcón, Horst spent twelve years meeting the same families for similar periods of time each year, paying a much anticipated visit and looking for shade and smiles under the tiny rooftops which had stood time and temper, and the odd storm or two.

No pirate ships

But why would anyone want to travel thousands of miles to photograph a barren, forgotten land where there were no pirate ships, no wars, no famine, no drama, and apparently no news? Why would anyone want to see places where time had stood still like a clever lizard waiting for its prey, or meet old blind potters, wrinkled and sun-toasted chair makers, wary stone cutters? Why would anyone choose black crows over shiny parrots?

The series covers the routines and trials of daily life in the barren lands of the Venezuelan «desert», a frontier place where magic has taken over from rule books and institutional laws, and where windswept villages are silent but respectful witnesses of the rituals and traditions of small communities who learned fast and early to take care of themselves.

It might be a harsh place where children never heard of Gulliver’s Travels or Robinson Crusoe, and where stray dogs would make a feast of Lilliput’s inhabitants, but where freedom and fantasy run through the veins and dried-up riverbeds.

barren and abandoned as it is, this is a place of survival and sacrifice

Yet, barren and abandoned as it is, this is a place of survival and sacrifice, where luck and chance play no game, and where the daily routines of each family easily emulate decades of oral …

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