Mauricio Valenzuela

Mauricio Valenzuela’s studies in Painting and Fine Art at the University of Bellas Artes, Santiago, were violently interrupted on 11th September 1973, the day the military junta toppled Allende’s government. Determined to pursue his studies despite the prevailing political climate, Valenzuela (1951) completed his visual arts education intermittently, in different art establishments, acquiring a degree in Theater Studies along the way. This unusual academic formation and a hitch-hiking trip from the island of Chiloe, South of Chile, to the Peruvian boarder, would define Valenzuela’s personal quest and sensitivity as a leading visual artist in Chilean photography.

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In the 80’s Valenzuela joined the first seminal association of independent photographers, AFI, that documented Chile’s violent dictatorship against its own people until the late 1990’s. There Valenzuela befriended and was influenced by the works of great masters, the poet Claudio Bertoni and photographer Felipe Riobó, AFI members and contemporaries of Valenzuela. In the 80/90’s Valenzuela participated in important solo and group exhibitions – “La puerta del cuero”, Edwards Gallery; “El desnudo en Chile”, Contraluz Gallery; “Relatos Breves” Bellas Artes Museum; etc. -. A member of ACU[1] , Valenzuela was an outspoken and influential participant on debates about photography.

Valenzuela’s work stands amongst the most unusual, as well as original, of the ‘golden period’ of Chilean photography from the 80/90’s. His gaze captures society’s tensions and its people through poetic, melancholic, spontaneous and unconventionally composed viewing angles. His aesthetic, although rooted in the social documentary is permeated by an existential lyricism and allegorical construct imbued with symbolism. Valenzuela’s ‘political allegiance’ is to document his time. He is a militant without a party whose work stands out for a distinctly personal and interpretative style of photography.

Valenzuela’s depiction of the city of Santiago under the Pinochet dictatorship is constructed around his unique artistic methodology. A time of brutal oppression, sadness and a suffocating general climate is depicted through small photographic series, shot mostly in an atmosphere of heavy fog and low light, where the ‘empty space within’ carries more meaning that what is recorded. A project “Photographs without a Camera”, in the same period, questions censorship and freedom of visual expression. Valenzuela’s recent work is more autobiographical and reflects on the social context in which his personal journey takes place.

Valenzuela is the author of two famed photobooks: Mauricio Valenzuela (ed. Economica de Fotografia Chilena,1983) and La Niebla (ed. La Visita, 2011).

Valenzuela’s work is in important private and institutional collections such as the Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid, Spain.

[1] ACU (Agrupación Cultural Universitaria): A student organisation with a cultural aim.