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April 2006  

Pablo Valenzuela
, photographer:
To register what's forgotten

Eight years ago and just as a personal hobby, this photographer started to focus his lens over buildings and houses of Santiago that were being demolished. He believes that the loss of urban patrimony is also a loss for our identity.

By Rosario Mena

His passion for photography started while climbing the central Andes mountains. He has a degree in Engineering, but decided to develop himself as a photographer, as a way for helping on the defense of our country's natural and cultural heritage. His images are mostly concentrated on nature, magnificent landscapes with no human trace whatsoever. But he's also interested in architecture and its relation to our patrimony.

You can visit Pablo Valenzuela's website at www.pablovalenzuela.cl

He defines himself as a true passionate for mountains, but also of "cities and town where you can see real identity, where there's a link between what's been build by men and the natural surroundings". Eight years ago, he started taking pictures of the demolition of patrimonial buildings. He sees this as a "personal crusade" that he approaches the same as "a paparazzo", not free of risks. For Pablo, this is a way of fighting the "deep depression I get whenever I see how they erase all these landmarks from our collective memory", as he explains.

A good example is what just happened to the Las Lilas theater, in Providencia. Pablo was a regular visitor, to which he always went walking or by bike, and where he saw unforgettable movies, such as "Gone with the wind" and "Cinema paradiso". He feels this loss in a special way, but he's also quick to explain that "this is not a personal issue, but a national one. This was the last small neighborhood kind of cinema we had left. So it would be the same to me to know of a similar demolition in another city, that I don't even know".

Very fast and partially hidden, he took the photos that are now a testimony of this urban disappearance. He has done similar efforts in the area known as El Golf, where he grew up, still lives and keeps his office.

—What kind of reaction do you get when you go to these demolitions with your camera?
—Not a very good one. I have to get in like if I was a paparazzo. Chileans have this typical feeling of safeguarding private property, and put themselves immediately defensive. They ask you what the photos are for. And it's not a very safe thing to do. I once was almost run over by a excavator. I was so concentrated and there was so much noise around, that I didn't hear the horn.

—Do you have to convince them to let you make the pictures?
—I usually tell them about how much I love this place, and that I used to live here.

—What feelings motivate you for making photos such as these?
—I just get depressed thinking about all these houses being erased not just from our present, but also from our collective memory. There may be a few good new buildings, but mostly it's worthless stuff. It's just sad to see that land is more important than the patrimonial value of what can be built over it. There are no regulations. Laws are just too permissive. I'm concerned about History, about what we are leaving for future generations.

—Aren't you concerned about what's going on in other areas of the city?
—Yes, but Providencia is a very valuable area from a patrimonial perspective, and a very livable too. Other parts of Santiago are nice, but no good for living. I also like Ñuñoa, but they're demolishing everything there as well. So probably in a few more years everything will look just the same. There are no rules nor incentives. If you buy an old house in a patrimonial area, you can not know if you can get a new building on the side. There must be protected areas, even if that makes them more expensive. One can live in a patrimonial building, but that has to be taken care of by the authorities.

—Would you like to develop a photography style connected to architecture and patrimony?

—To me it's clear that something like that is now ongoing. I'm looking for people to associate on this. I've talked with Chile's Cultural Heritage Corporation.

—Are you the kind of person who likes walking around the city?
—Absolutely. I move around Santiago a lot; by foot, bike, subway or bus. When they opened the new line of the Metro, thirty minutes later I was already inside a car. I like knowing about what's going on in the city. I like the good things that are done, and get very concerned about the bad.

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