Matthe O'Brien

A San Francisco-based photographer has traveled Colombia with an old Polaroid camera to showcase a gentler side of the country that big-budget productions such as Narcos often ignored.

Matthew O'Brien traveled throughout the South American country for 10 years, snapping hundreds of vintage, instant-film Polaroid pictures to produce No Dar Papaya, a book that features the country's beauty, unique landscapes and cultural diversity.

San Andres Island, Colombia 2005
Matthew O'Brien

O'Brien says he didn't intend to make any sort of political statement with his book. But with Colombia's international image dominated by media stories about the FARC and drug-culture TV programs like Narcos, O'Brien is urging people to turn to his work for a  more "personal" and "alternative" view of Colombia—one that's not about drugs, guns, violence, and death.

"The war [between the government and leftist rebels] has been going on for 50 years and of course it’s had a huge effect on Colombian society and culture," O'Brien said. "But Colombia is a lot more than that; so my pictures explore some of the other aspects.”

Santa Marta, Colombia 2013

No Dar Papaya is a Colombian expression that translates something like "Don't make it easy for others to take advantage of you." The book was published in Colombia last year, and O'Brien is now trying to raise funds online to get it published in the U.S.

Pereira, Colombia Easter 2005

O'Brien says he opted for instant-print Polaroid film, which is no longer mass produced, because its grainy qualities and washed-out colors make people think more about the emotions portrayed in the scenes, rather than the visual details of the image.

He says using the old insta-film made him be more selective as a photographer.

"As a documentary photographer, sometimes I’d do a project and make so many images that there'd be more than I could really use," O'Brien said. “With a Polaroid camera you have to be much more conservative; you can’t shoot a lot of film because it's expensive and scarce."

Cartagena, Colombia 2010

O'Brien traveled to more than a dozen locations—from the Andes mountains to the jungle, the Pacific to the Caribbean— to snap the 190 photographs in his book.

San Andres, Colombia 2005

The final product, he says, is essentially a chronicle of his personal journey through Colombia.

Bogota, 2010

"I think photos reflect the person taking the pictures," O'Brien says. "They show what he or she finds interesting, ugly or beautiful. These photos reflect me and my interests, and I’m really drawn to beauty and trying to see the good things in everything.”


If you'd like to help O'Brien publish his Colombia book, take a look at his kickstarter page.

Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.

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