João Pina was born in Lisbon, Portugal, and began working as a photographer in 1999. He graduated from the International Center of Photography’s Documentary Photography and Photojournalism Program in New York. He is currently based in Argentina.
Pina’s photographs have been published in D La Repubblica delle Donne, Days Japan, El Pais, Expresso (Portugal), GEO, La Vanguardia, L’Espresso (Italy), the New York Times, the New Yorker, Newsweek, Stern, Time, and Visão, among others.
In New York City, his work has been exhibited at the Howard Greenberg Gallery (2011, group show), the International Center of Photography (2005 and 2012, group shows), and Point of View Gallery (2008, solo show). Internationally, Pina’s work has been shown at the Casa Fernando Pessoa (2006, Portugal, group show), the Canon Gallery (2007, Japan, group show), the Centro Portugês de Fotografia (2007, Portugal, solo show), the KGaleria (2009, Portugal, solo show), and Visa pour l’Image (2010, France, group show).
In 2007, Pina published his first book, Por Teu Livre Pensamento, featuring the stories of 25 former Portuguese political prisoners. This project inspired an Amnesty International advertising campaign that won him a Gold Lion Award in the 2011 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. He was a finalist for the Henri Nannen Prize and the CARE International Award for Humanitarian Reportage (2011), received the Estação Imagem grant (2010), and was a finalist for the Pierre and Alexandra Boulat Association Award (2009).
In 1975, in the midst of the Cold War, six South American countries—Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay—that were ruled by right-wing military dictatorships created Operation Condor. It was a secret military plan aimed at eliminating political opponents using shared military resources and exchanges of information, prisoners, and torture techniques.
This extensive campaign—carried out over a period of more than three years—resulted in the extrajudicial executions of at least 60,000 people, mostly leftist youth inspired by the Cuban revolution. The number of victims may be much higher, but cannot be confirmed both because of the secrecy in which the repression took place, and because many of the mass executions were carried out in ways that the bodies disappeared forever in jungles, forests, rivers, and oceans.
From the Amazon jungle in Brazil to the cold open lands of Patagonia, thousands of victims remain buried in unmarked mass graves, while survivors struggle to cope with their memories. I have witnessed survivors and families dealing with problems such as acute depression, paranoia, and other psychiatric illnesses due to the immense traumas they underwent at the hands of the regimes that ruled 30 years ago.
The secrecy of Operation Condor has endured because of the nature of the political transitions that took place. In most of the countries involved, fragile democracies succeeded the military regimes, and remnants of former dictatorships forced sweeping political amnesties for the military. It has taken years for these amnesties to be overturned, and in some places, is still an ongoing battle. Many relatives of the victims still don’t know what happened to their loved ones, and the majority of those responsible for their deaths and disappearances have never been brought to justice.
This project aims to create images of something that happened in the past. I sought to create a visual narrative of one of the darkest periods in South America’s history by returning to the places where torture and disappearances had occurred, portraying survivors and victims’ families today, and using archival images taken by photographers and security forces from that period.
I hope the resulting work will not only create a visual memory, but also aid survivors and human rights organizations in bringing those responsible to justice.
—João Pina, January 2014