Felipe Romero Beltrán – Bravo

Felipe Romero Beltrán – Bravo

The Río Bravo is the river that runs along the border between Mexico and the USA. For many, it represents the chance to reach a new country and a new life. For others, it means homeland and belonging. Felipe Romero Beltrán’s photographic essay explores the tensions in a place where the border is not a wall, but rather an area of transition.

In the American movie “Lost in Translation”, director Sofia Coppola sends her ageing actor to work on a commercial in the vibrant city of Tokyo. Everything he finds there is alien: he moves from his hotel to his work and back; wanders lost through the streets; sits alone in a bar at night. The German title of the movie is “Zwischen den Welten”, meaning ‘between worlds’. This movie springs to mind, as we look at Romero Beltrán’s pictures.

The Colombian photographer’s essay documents life in a border region. The Río Bravo flows between worlds – between the north of Mexico and the American Southwest: the river runs along the border that divides the two countries, both geographically and politically. Everything about this place seems to be in a state of limbo – the people, objects and architecture. Existence is defined by the border situation. “I can’t generalize about such a complex place. I can say that some of the people I photographed have been living there for years, and it is indeed their home. At the same time, I have photographed people who came to the border to cross it; so their sense of belonging to the place is different.”

“I would not categorize the complexity of the border in binary terms, such as ‘protected’ or ‘not-protected’, ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’, ‘bad’ or ‘good’. In fact, the whole work aims to look out from the border – and tries to reflect on image-making that is looking for ways to approach reality.”

On the one hand, we find the locals. They live in Spartan houses, which the photographer frequently uses as a backdrop; they go about their work, as car mechanics or such, and light a campfire in the evening. Romero Beltrán’s pictures portray closeness and informal moments. Here is Greece, washing his feet in a bucket; over there is Nina, standing on a street corner – simple scenes that suggest a simple life. They speak of an existence that is anything but rich and glamorous. “Most of the people I have met several times, over the course of two years, and some of those are friends. In that sense, I photograph people I already know, and I photograph people who I met through friends.” On the other hand, he encounters those who are stranded there, but who intend to leave. They come from everywhere: people from Latin America, for whom the Río Bravo is not a vacation spot, nor a place to linger; it is a gateway to another and very new world. That gateway does not always open: the river is more dangerous than they imagine; and for some, the border ends up becoming a place of refuge. Lázaro, from Honduras, has tried to cross the river three times, without success. In one of Beltran’s pictures, he lies exhausted in the alien landscape – “lost in translation”.

“I want to show images - images that work as devices of thoughts about a concrete reality. In this case, “Bravo” deals with the territory preceding the border, which has a special condition.”

“Bravo” is a long-term project that Romero Beltrán has been developing on the Mexican side, and that he wants to continue working on in the future. The photographer sees the border as more than just a barrier that divides one country from another: he considers it a geographical region shaped by politics and society; home to hybrid cultures and political tensions – an area of transition that becomes a meeting point for those living and those waiting.

Felipe Romero Beltrán

Felipe Romero Beltrán was born in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1992. He studied photography in Buenos Aires, and has been living in Madrid since 2016. His interest lies in documentary photography, with a focus, in particular, on social themes and conflicts around the world. He is currently preparing his Doctorate on Documentary Photography at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid. He has received recognition at various international competitions, including the Aperture Portfolio Prize (2022); the Getxophoto Award (2020); and the Photobook Madrid Prize (2020).

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Portrait: © Felipe Romero Beltrán