Location
Barranquilla, Colombia

Charlie Cordero

Colombia 

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(Barranquilla, 1990) Charlie Cordero is a documentary photographer based in the Colombian Caribbean. He is part of the Reojo Colectivo collective. His work spans personal projects, commissions for diverse NGOs, and international media assignments. Social justice, climate change, and Caribbean traditions are the recurring themes in his work. Charlie worked for The New York TimesThe Guardian, Geo, The Washington Post, Al Jazeera, NZZ, El País, Politiken, Vogue, and Vanity Fair. In 2020, he was a fellow of the Gabriel García Márquez Foundation; in 2021, of National Geographic; and in 2022, he was a Fellow at VII Academy. He has participated in number of group exhibitions: Without Borders by the French Alliance in Madrid as part of PhotoEspaña(2015); Coca-La Guerra Perdida by the Image Center in Mexico (2021); and Inside the Curve by National Geographic (2022).  

Currently, he is working in his region on a long-term project about the residents of Santa Cruz del Islote, the most densely populated island in the world, and their fight against climate change. 

SANTA CRUZ DEL ISLOTE: The most densely populated island in the world and its fight against climate change 

The San Bernardo Archipelago, ten islands off Colombia’s Caribbean coast, faces a severe threat from climate change. Rising sea levels pose a real danger of submersion; one of the islands is among the world’s most densely populated and is currently home to 700 residents.  

One island has already vanished beneath the water. Settlers first established their homes on the San Bernardo islands in the 1870s. Today, they face the reality of their precarious situation, contemplating the longevity of their community and the inevitability of relocation. 

Colombia is especially vulnerable to climate change but has been slow to react. The island communities have begun to adapt on their own. Recent initiatives include curbing the logging of mangroves and launching a reforestation program. 

This was my first personal project … As time went by, I began to witness the changes that the island was undergoing and how climate change was putting subsistence in this place at risk.

Interview

What was your inspiration, process, and research? 

 It’s been more than 8 years since I visited Santa Cruz del Islote. The first time I heard about this place I was still working at the local newspaper in the city of Barranquilla called El Heraldo, where I had done several stories about vulnerable communities living in aquatic ecosystems like Nueva Venecia, Tierrabomba or Bocas de Ceniza. The newspaper never sent me to this island. Later, I had the opportunity to visit it as a freelancer. It became the subject of my first personal project. 

I wanted to explore the living conditions of this community and document the fight for their island, one of the most densely populated in the world. At first it was difficult in a closed community, where everyone knows each other, and it is easy to identify a stranger. However, with each new visit we got to know each other better. They have witnessed my personal and professional growth and I have witnessed the changes that the island and its population have undergone. With each visit I made new friends, met new families, and began to take part in their events and celebrations. I have accompanied them in baptisms, weddings, graduations, and parties. Today, after eight years, the community trusts me and my work; they know me, respect me, and appreciate me. They are and will continue to be an important part of my life.  

The first years of this project gave me the opportunity to explore my own way of looking. It was a laboratory, the perfect setting to find my way of narrating. At this stage I managed to publish the story in some international media. The title was: “What is it like to live on the most densely populated island in the world?”. However, as time went by, I began to witness the changes that the island was undergoing and how climate change was putting subsistence in this place at risk. The project began to transform. 

It was evident that the community was increasingly suffering with the rising tides. Erosion has begun to cause the disappearance of entire islands and the pressure exerted on the ecosystem by uncontrolled tourism is leaving this Afro-island population with very few options. 

During the last 2 years I have dedicated myself to researching the impacts of climate change in the San Bernardo archipelago (where Santa Cruz del Islote is located). I have had interviews with Natural Parks (state entity), environmentalists and academics such as Karem Acero who has conducted one of the most thorough investigations on this topic in the country. 

What do you hope to achieve with this project?

Santa Cruz del Islote is completely abandoned by the state.  

The primary objective of my project is to use media dissemination and exhibitions to draw the attention of local and national governments to the threat that climate change and uncontrolled tourism pose to life in the archipelago. 

The second objective is to make visible the actions that are being implemented by the community and the ecological group Eco-Sabios to combat the impact of high tides and coastal erosion.  

Finally, through a collaborative project called “Photos x Mangrove,” we aim to obtain 500 mangrove seedlings to replantone of the areas most affected by mangrove deforestation in the archipelago.  

Were you able to apply what you learned at VII Academy/Foundry Photojournalism Workshop to this project, and if so, how?

Yes! Being a part of the VII Academy Fellows program and the Level 3 course in Arles has allowed me to approach this project more efficiently, from properly writing a pitch to presenting a realistic budget.  

This training has allowed me to identify interesting angles of history that I had not perceived in my previous time on the island. It has also encouraged me to consider new ways of financing this project that are not associated with the media.  

Having had this training has helped me think about different ways to approach history through the use of different narrative tools. (Ongoing) 

Finally, having been part of these academic experiences with VII has made me reflect on how to work with these communities in the most ethically and collaboratively way as possible.