The book La mirada del fotógrafo. Julio A. Sánchez: Bogotá, modernidad e imagenwas the result of research done for a master’s degree in the Theory of the History of Art and Architecture undertaken by Margarita María Monsalve Pino (b. 1948) at the Universidad Nacional of Colombia. From 1990 to 2010, the School of Arts at that institution became a prolific space for thinking about twentieth-century art practices in Colombia. This book is of vital importance for the analysis of Colombian photography, given the role that was assumed by Monsalve as an artist, creator of images and master of arts. This is one of those rare research projects in which an artist analyzes various aspects of photography through an interdisciplinary approach. It is rare, too, in its articulation of aesthetic thinking on photography as a medium and language with all the related philosophical, sociological and historical variables.
The Theory of the Avant-Garde by Peter Bürger, as well as the analyses by the German philosopher Walter Benjamin of the technical problem of whether art can be reproduced were fundamental to Monsalve. Their work was the background for her thinking about the transition from “tradition” to “modernity.” The researcher came to recognize the value of the work of Julio A. Sánchez (1899–1979), calling into question the “localist” discussions on this matter. This work also called attention to the Western phenomenon of the arrival of mechanization and a change in people’s relationships both to art media and the systems of representation shared by the society.
The way the book is assembled suggests Monsalve’s interest in discussing, from two perspectives, “interior and exterior,” the problem she would like to construct. One perspective is her own approach as an artist and researcher—including her thinking on aesthetic and philosophical theories, her interpretations of images and her own experience with photography. This involved an intense, meaningful analysis of the photographic image and medium, in which she points out complex variables of significance and meaning. On the other hand, the writer proposes a perspective based on history and sociology that contextualizes Sanchez’s images, considering them in terms of both creation of the work and dissemination. All this was going on in the very period when Bogotá was undergoing a radical change due to the phenomena of urbanization, modernization, and the development of a proletariat.
In the book, Monsalve draws a profile of the Colombian photographer Julio A. Sánchez, who initially worked as a photojournalist and studio photographer, mainly in the 1920s and 1930s. It was later, after Sánchez moved into architectural and industrial photography, that he created his most important images on the processes of modernization and industrialization in Colombia.