Hombres de Carbón is the first U.S. presentation
of Venezuelan photographer Luis Lares' powerful contemporary
documentation of the mythic heartland of Venezuela's
metallurgical industry. Lares' images of the physical
structures of the manufacturing plants and the men who
operate them belong to the best of an honored tradition
in photography - the photography of industrial workers
associated with Lewis Hines, Margaret Bourke White,
The huge industrial complex of Ciudad Guyana and Matanzas
in southeast Venezuela is a region surrounded by jungle
and anchored between two great rivers, the Orinoco and
Caroní. It is a region of myth and great natural
wealth, the birthplace of the world for some and a center
of finance for others. Its history has been one of exploitation:
from the pre-Columbian times when indigenous peoples
used the forests for hunting to the export of gold,
rubber, diamonds, and coal in the centuries after the
Spanish Conquest and War for Independence.
In the 1950's the region's wealth of mineral resources
led to the building of the country's largest industrial
complex of metallurgical factories. Alongside the petroleum
industry, these industries were the centerpiece of the
country's economic development.
Luis Lares was the first independent photographer to
photograph these industries, both the huge physical
structures of the factories themselves as well as the
men who worked there. The work was done over a ten-year
period. In their directness and clarity of detail, Lares'
photographs are neither denunciatory nor utopian. Alongside
desperation and fatalism, they maintain a sense of beauty
and poetry. Ultimately, it is the strength and humor
of individual workers that prevails.