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Painter and photographer Luis B. Ramos’s obituary in the newspaper El Tiempo evidences the great esteem felt for the most beloved photographer in Colombia during the mid-1950s. The text recounts that when Ramos returned from Paris he asserted the need for Colombian art to take its themes from the towns of Ráquira and of Firavitoba (in the Department of Boyacá), the Cerro de Monserrate [Monserrate Hill] in Bogotá, or the “dawn pilgrimages wrapped in shawls with music of the tiple [a string instrument] in the background.”



This text evidences not only the great human qualities of Colombian painter and photographer Luis Benito Ramos (1899–1955) but also the idea of “nationalism” that ran through his work in painting and photography. Ramos was born in a small town northeast of Bogotá, where he later studied painting. He traveled to Paris in 1929 thanks to a fellowship, and it was there that he learned photographic technique. He returned to Colombia in 1934 and did work in fresco mural painting. While his photographic work was acclaimed by the most prestigious critics of the day, his painting was fiercely attacked by Jorge Zalamea (1905–1969).  


Over the course of a few years, Ramos produced a vast body of work, earning unanimous and passionate esteem from his contemporaries that few others in the history of Colombian culture have enjoyed. Nonetheless, when he died in Bogotá on March 28, 1955, Ramos was a frustrated man because his painting never received critical acclaim.  


The great photographer was eventually forgotten and the great painter never came into being. The only prize he received as a painter—from a salon with little prestige—was for a showy work that rejected the aesthetic of the day. Ramos was a great artist who never got what he wanted. Tellingly, the plaque with red letters on gold background at the entrance to his studio in Bogotá listed painter first and then photographer, even though it was Ramos’s photographs that critics acclaimed.

Alvaro Medina
Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia
Courtesy of Casa Editorial El Tiempo, Bogotá, Colombia