El Santo: A Portrait of Chile in the Last Decade

El Santo is an anonymous Chilean photographer who’s been working since 2015 to bring art closer to people through color and advertising techniques.

“In a world guided by social media rules, no one bothered to photograph what no one else was photographing. It was then when I came up with the idea to create an anonymous project that focuses on photographing what nobody pays attention to."

El Santo

His work addresses topics such as climate change, overpopulation, technology and politics in an aim to raise awareness about landscapes and activities often ignored by people as a result of routine and a frantic lifestyle.

Born and raised in a small city in the central area of the country, El Santo began his career as a photographer working in local events. Eventually he decided to move to the capital, Santiago de Chile, where he found himself immersed in a completely different reality than what he had experienced in his hometown. 

Overtime, the rush and chaos of the city life awoke in him the need to break with the purely aesthetic and start capturing typical landscapes, activities and scenes of the daily life around him.

Historical Context

In 1973, dictator Augusto Pinochet imposed a neo-liberal model in Chile that resulted in an economical growth for the country. However, the price of this change was high. 

Measures such as the privatisation of natural resources, as well as the health and education systems were taken, thus forcing Chile’s citizens to finance everything. The free market ended up essentially removing Chilean’s freedom to choose for themselves, and immersed the country in an illusion of wealth.

Almost forty years later, on the 18th of October 2019, triggered by a sudden raise in Santiago de Chile’s public transport’s fee, the country entered what would end up being Chile’s largest social outbreak of the decade. According to Chileans; the moment they finally awakened.

Photography from El Santo's personal archive "Social Outbreak, October 2019".

The circumstances underlying the social uprising had been the source of inspiration and the pivotal subject of El Santo’s work for over five years by the time it happened. 

Oddly enough, El Santo was holding an exhibition in Santiago de Chile featuring two of his photographic series—"Samsara" and "Special Forces"—when, almost in a premonitory way, the social uprising occurred. His photographs became then a direct window to the reality underlying the crisis

Samsara: The suffering of all Chileans

(*) Saṃsāra or Sansar (Sanskrit): the cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound.

The series “Samsara” portrays the impact that the misnamed "progress" has upon societies; amongst which are human alienation and the destruction caused by both real estate and our means of transport.

It gathers part of the artist's photographic record from the beginning of 2015 until August 2019. Thirty photos that capture the essence of the Chilean society and narrate the reality of their people.

"Distracted in a world that demands time for money, money that they say we need to solve problems ... nonexistent, intangible problems: license plates, patents, bills, clothing, food, water, hobbies. Much of our day we dedicate to activities that distract us from spirituality, love, leisure. The distraction is such that we force ourselves to spend hours and hours on public transport, to stand in lines that we haven’t chosen ourselves, to buy things that we do not need; all in hope to finally achieve that “freedom” which is nothing more than an illusion. As a result of this distraction, we remain submissive without even questioning who is leading us, or what we are allowing them to do to us.”

El Santo

Special Forces: Questioning Violence 

In this series the artist makes use of colour to shock the viewer and provoke the questioning of both the police force and the authorities, after in November 2018 a leader of the original Mapuche people was assassinated in strange circumstances at the hands of the Carabineros de Chile; the country's national police force.

"Moneda de cambio" from the series "Fuerzas Especiales" (2018).

El Santo captured a demonstration carried out by Mapuche people in front of La Moneda Palace (Chile’s presidential building), in which they demanded the prime minister’s resignation after it had been proved that the 24 year old Mapuche farmer Camilo Catrillanca had been murdered by the Chilean police.

“Seeing how people ignored the police made me realise that people were used to being repressed; it almost was part of their routine. That gave me the idea to use pink on the composition of the photographs. Why pink? Because it is a colour that breaks the aesthetic criteria of the viewers, provoking a shock effect that has the power to generate the desired dialogue amongst the people."

El Santo

After the tragic events happened, facts were covered and audiovisual material erased to hide the truth—with the full awareness of the government—, which altogether resulted in the uprising of the Mapuche people. 

The riot police arrived at the site in an effort to put an end to the demonstration, but the people gathered there were so used to their presence that they completely ignored them.

This series also documents the events during the Women’s Day demonstration held in Santiago de Chile in 2018 that ended up with violent confrontations between police, in an effort to raise awareness of the established relations between citizens and their institutions.

"Fuerzas Especiales" from the series "Fuerzas Especiales" (2018).

This series also documents the events during the Women’s Day demonstration held in Santiago de Chile in 2018, that ended up with violent confrontations between police, in an aim to raise awareness of the established relations between citizens and their institutions.

"Ignorados" from the series "Fuerzas Especiales" (2018).
"8M" from the series "Fuerzas Especiales" (2018).

Visit El Santo’s website to be updated with his latest work and news.

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