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Urban Jörén – The Road to Atacama

Exhibition September 2023 – January 2024

Buenos Aires September 1989

I was 24 years old and alone in a strange city, on a foreign continent with infinite possibilities open to me. I felt strong and sensitive, full of contradictions, as I wanted independence while yearning for belonging.

I initially stayed in a small crap hotel on Avenida de Mayo‚ a stone’s throw from the Presidential Palace. It was cheap and my room on the third floor smelled of dust and mothballs. On the bedside table was a well-thumbed Bible and a bookmark of an angel. The hotel became my base and my security in a country where the most important thing for me was to do something I had never done before – to explore myself as a person and as a photographer.

On the second evening, there was a large demonstration at the obelisk around the corner from my hotel. The crowd’s chorus echoed in beat to the giant bass drums. I was drawn there out of curiosity and started shooting spontaneously. At first, I stuck to the outer edges, but was drawn in towards the middle. Finally, I found myself at the centre, with vibrant life, movement and crowding. The slogans echoed with force, full of emotion.

Suddenly, I felt someone grab the camera to snatch it away from me, but I resisted and met his gaze for a few seconds. Finally, he loosened his grip and slowly withdrew to disappear into the crowd. This was the first time someone tried to rob me, but not the last. It happened both on the streets and in people’s homes, where I least expected it. Otherwise, I felt safe during my trip even though I traveled alone.

After being away for 15 months, instead of the planned one month, I hitchhiked and took a bus 1700 kilometers north from Santiago de Chile towards the Bolivian border. On a pin-straight road in the Atacama Desert, one of the world’s driest places, I stood and gazed at the endlessness. A voice inside me said: ”Anything you do here, you can just as easily do at home.” The last picture was taken, and my trip was complete. I returned to Santiago and booked a plane ticket home to never return to this magical and mythical continent except in my mind.

These photos have never been shown before. The negatives went into a cardboard box and have moved around with me all these years. I know I’m an excellent black- and -white photographer, but during the pandemic, I discovered the strength of my color photos.

About Urban Jörén

During the last 30 years Urban has moved into areas from travel photography, corporate works to still life in studio and art projects. He has been exhibited in Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Sao Paolo Porto Alegre, Stockholm, Gothenburg, Halmstad in around 15 solo exhibitions and several group shows. Urban is based in Stockholm and is now working on his second book. A big deep diving in to his archive with pictures from South America taken during the years from 1984-1991

Urban Jörén

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