Ex-Clandestine Centre for Detention, Torture and Extermination Automotores Orletti, Buenos Aires. Plug used for the picana eléctrica (cattle prods) in the torture chamber. © Erica Canepa
The Remaining by Erica Canepa is mostly interior photographs of the sites used for detention and torture during Argentina’s Dirty War (1976-1983). Also included are a few portraits of survivors, notably Victor Basterra whose photos taken while he was prisoner have been used in trials for crimes that occurred at the main prison, The School of Naval Mechanics (ESMA).
Canepa’s title for the series comes from a quote by Basterra:
“The military dictatorship began with the idea of culturally changing Argentinian people. It has been a progressive change towards a more individualist, selfish and insensitive society that reached its apogee during the Nineties, but where the basis was brutally planted during the dictatorship era. What you see outside the window is what’s remaining, what we are left with. It is today’s Argentina, that shows the indelible marks of genocide, but in which I can still see the ideals that we fought for.”
– Victor Basterra, ex detainee of the Clandestine Centre for Detention, Torture and Extermination ESMA, 2011.
Though not apparent in the photographs alone, Canepa’s project is not just a tribute to the students, university professors, intellectuals, artists, sports men, workers and others who opposed the Jorge Rafael Videla military dictatorship, but also a call for us to view the aftermath of extreme political violence. It is about the acknowledgement and attachment – or not – of subsequent generations.
Canepa’s work is laudable but the photographs are surely just an entry point to the massive and terrifying details of the Dirty War (1976-1983), a terror that “disappeared” over 30,000 Argentinians. Canepa’s lengthy accompanying text would suggest she is aware of the limitations of photography:
The junta did not achieve its goal, the deletion of a generation’s ideals. The lives of the ex-desaparecidos are living proof of this. […] Sometimes, a smell takes them back to the horror, sometimes a tear rolls down their cheek. They cannot explain the reason why they survived and they ask themselves this question every day. They are alive, and they feel the responsibility to help justice make its course. […] The country is rebuilding the truth and owning it, learning how not to commit the same mistakes, learning how to live without fear. The scar left by the military dictatorship is painful, but not crippling. The survivors are no longer victims. They resisted: they went back to school, they now have families and they have careers.
What you can see outside the window, what you can read in people’s eyes is the strength and the courage to believe in a fresh start.
What you can see outside the window is ‘the remaining’: it’s today’s Argentina.
Sin Olvido is an archive of photographs and descriptions of 3,400 victims of the Dirty War.