Juanita Escobar is a self-taught photographer whose work focuses on the exploration of gender and territory through an intense ethnographic work. She won the Colombian National Photography Prize in 2009 with her work People – Land. She was also selected for the World Press Masterclass Latin America 2015 and won the Portfolio Review Prize from National Geographic Society in 2016 for her nine-year project Llano in San Jose Photo Festival, Uruguay.
Juanita turned to the camera after having worked in documentary cinema. She prefers the intimacy and loneliness of photography because it allows her to dive deep into landscapes and characters. She spent seven years riding along the Orinoco Savannah, where she portrayed cowboys of the Colombian plains, the llaneros, and their devotion to their territory. Reaching the mythical Orinoco river was the photographer’s aspiration and when she did, in 2015, she was determined to stay and narrate the stories of the border land between Colombia and Venezuela.
In an interview with The Phoblographer, Juanita relays how, when the border conflict broke out in 2015, the landscape became darker; ‘the humanitarian crisis […] led to a monumental increase in prostitution.’ The conflict affected women more than others, and many had to turn to sex work to sustain themselves. Juanita strived to portray their emotional and physical journeys; she felt the same solitude as the women, immersing herself in their stories of love and loss. ‘This way of telling stories makes me feel alive,’ she affirms in an interview for National Geographic. ‘It makes me feel that the earth beats. In this place I’m not only a photographer but a woman, girl, plainswoman, friend, partner… I need to experience everything and to be inside to tell the stories.’
By Maria D’Aniello