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  NECAH 1879
No Entregar Carhué Al Huinca (do not surrender carhué to the huinca)
1996
 
Res, Antonio Pozzo and the Desertification of the Pampas
   
 
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Argentina -still a cattle-raising country economically dependent on the British Empire- was beginning to enter modernity led by the oligarchy of Buenos Aires, a class controlling the land, the city port and foreign trade. By that time, Buenos Aires had already succeeded in wiping out the armed groups from the rural interior, which until then had resisted tenaciously its centralism. Beyond the line of forts that divided the humid pampas in two, however, the territory was still dominated by indigenous tribes.

In 1879 five military divisions under the command of General Julio A. Roca carried out a military campaign which moved the frontier, until then relatively close to the port of Buenos Aires, further away to Rio Negro and the Andes.
After being defeated, the surviving native dwellers were taken prisoner or dispersed all across the land extending down to the Magallanes Strait.
In this way, the "Conquest of the Desert" resulted in the encroachment of more than 155,000 square miles of the most fertile land of America. This action gained Roca the support he needed to become president in 1880.

More than a century after Antonio Pozzo -who marched with the troops of Julio A. Rocca- photographed the conclusion of this extermination campaign, Res followed the same route with his own camera. If Pozzo rode with state terror, Res found the loneliness, the vast loneliness of the pampas without natives or spears. No soldiers or wagons. Just the cold images of grain elevators, buildings, monuments. The flat land, the dark and quiet rivers. The only exception being the portrait of the descendants of Cacique Linares, the indigenous chief who compromised with Roca.
Pozzo had arrived when the resistance of the natives had been put down. There are no images of the unequal conflict. Roca's regiments with their rifles and leather breastplates, the prisoners -women and children who still move us with their quiet vulnerability- and their guardians, the chiefs in front of a tent, they all posed for Pozzo. A stillness both naïve and atrocious hovers over the bivouacking troop on the bank of the Colorado River.
If History remembers Pozzo as the photographer of the "Campaign of the Desert", Res' eye subverts the meaning of this war: his photographs seem to tell the story of a desertification campaign, forcing us to read the story those old images tell in a different way.
Even the letters that form Calfucura's motto "No Entregar Carhue al Huinca" ("Do not surrender Carhue to the Huinca1"), seem to be hovering, ghost-like - lingering in the desert as a historical reminder against terror and discrimination.

Dardo Castro
   
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