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About print

Clarification (Esclarecimiento)

Daniel Hernández-Salazar, 1998.

Poliptych. Silver on gelatin print on fiber paper from film negatives.


Photographer Daniel Hernández-Salazar has devoted much of his work to document the complex and painful recent history of his native Guatemala. Through his Eros + Thanatos series, he reflects on what happened in his country, which problaly is the worst tragedy of its kind in the American continent during the Twentieth Century, but ironically is the less known.


Hernández-Salazar’s polyptych Clarification comes out from Eros + Thanatos, and is built on the images of four angels. The first three angels respectively cover their mouth, eyes and ears, while the fourth screams out, the hands cupped in front of his mouth. Clarification is an evolution of a previous work titled I don’t see, I don’t hear, I remain silent, composed with the first three angels. Hernández-Salazar, wanted to symbolize with that piece the way people in Guatemala passively and taciturnly react to the horrors of the armed conflict, which took the life of more than 200,000 men and women, most of them civilians and indigenous Maya people killed by the Guatemalan army. When the Catholic Church was to publish the first truth report about these bloody events, Hernández-Salazar created the fourth angel who shouts and announces the truth. Later on, each angel illustrated the covers of the four volumes of that report, Guatemala: Never Again.

According to Steven Hoelscher, scholar of the University of Texas, Clarification successfully combines two features of photography that some consider mutually contradictory and irreconcilable: the symbolic value and the truth value. On the one hand, through the image of the angel (a messenger) and the reinterpretation of the icon of the three monkeys (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil), Hernández-Salazar symbolizes the silence and indifference to the atrocities of the war. Yet with the fourth angel, he symbolizes the act of taking a stand and sheding light, as well as the hope that truth and justice will prevail over impunity. Aesthetically, the angels show their own construction: the overlap of two analogue negatives of the image of a young mestizo man and two inverted shoulder blades. But in order to give these images the truth value and to undeniably link them to the Guatemalan history, Hernández-Salazar insisted in using real bones of a civilian victim of the conflict, exhumed from a clandestine grave and photographed by himself in a forensic laboratory. Hence, the symbol and the evidence combine themselves with the explicit purpose of attesting a traumatic past.

History repeated two days after the Guatemala: Never Again report was publicly presented: Bishop Juan Gerardi, the project coordinator, was bludgeoned to death. In his nonor, and to remind us of the importance of conveying memory, the fourth angel of this polyptych is called So That All Shall Know, the name Gerardi proposed to give to the report.

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