Julio Etchart was born in Uruguay but settled in England and studied documentary photography in Newport where David Hurn had arrived in 1973 to found a course that became renowned around the world. It was a course based around working hard on photographic projects and the intensive criticism of students work, an approach that has produced many fine documentary photographers. In 1973 it was a breath of reality into photographic education, at least in the UK, and has since provided a model for many courses elsewhere.
Etchart spent time in the 1980s documenting life under the Pinochet regime and the opposition to his regime, both in Chile and in the UK, for the international press, and in 1988 Amnesty International commissioned a show of his work for their campaign on human rights violations in Chile.
You can see some of Etchart’s work from Chile on his web site (along with other photography) and for the next few days an updated version of the 1988 exhibition is showing at the Amnesty International UK Human Rights Action Centre, 17-25 New Inn Yard, London, EC2A 3EA (weekdays 9-5 until 20 Sept 2013.) It is a powerful record of the opposition by the people – particularly women – to the repressive regime.
The show is timed to mark the 40th anniversary of Chile’s 9/11, when on 11th September 1972 a US-backed military junta overthrew and killed the democratically elected socialist President Salvador Allende. One of its leaders was Augusto Pinochet, who later became President, stepping down in 1990. More than 40,000 people were arrested during the coup and held in the National Stadium, and many were tortured and killed. Others disappeared without trace. Wikipedia reports “1,200–3,200 people were killed, up to 80,000 were interned, and up to 30,000 were tortured by his government including women and children.” Human rights abuses including deaths and disappearances continued throughout his Presidency, and at his death “about 300 criminal charges were still pending against him in Chile for numerous human rights violations, tax evasion, and embezzlement“.
Among the other interesting sets of work on his web site is one inspired by George Orwell’s Burmese Days, produced for the 75th anniversary of its publication. Based on Orwell’s own experiences as a police officer in the Indian Imperial Police force, the book is, in Etchart’s words “one of the greatest denunciations of imperialism ever written, and a powerful critique of the colonial mindset that underpinned the system.” The photographs are best seen in the full preview of Etchart’s book Katha: In the footsteps of George Orwell in Burma (change to full page view to see it best) on Blurb. There is also a YouTube video with a spoken commentary, but to me this lacks the urgency of Etchart’s pictures and voice.
Last month I mentioned some of Etchart’s more recent work in Street Isn’t Documentary.