About the project:
Born in Conflict
Left-wing guerrillas have been waging a bloody war against the Colombian government and the population for the past fifty years. To carry on this conflict, The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and emerging right-wing armed groups have been recruiting increasing numbers of children and youths. My project aims to document the experience of current and former child soldiers in Colombia.
For more than three years now, I have been documenting the hope, uncertainty and struggles of families in search of truth of the whereabouts of their 25,007 love ones who have disappeared in this conflict, who still await news of the 27,023 kidnapped and of the 5,172,500 internally displaced people who arrive to the big cities in search of a better life. Yet, while on assignment, I came across a crisis that has remained unspoken for much of this conflict, I met a troop of children well armed and eager for combat.
There is no precise data on the number of child combatants in Colombia, only estimates. Human Rights Watch places the figures as high as 11,000 child soldiers. About 3,500 former child soldiers have been ‘rehabilitated’ and reunited with their families. But most recruited children are afraid to speak about their experiences. Groups like the FARC have no leniency to children. Children who desert are often shot. This was the fate of Julian Ordoñes, a seventeen year old who deserted in 2011. I met his mother who showed me the last picture she had of him before the FARC took him months after he was reunited with his family to face a “war council.”
As peace talks are underway in Habana, there has been no acknowledgment from FARC on recruiting child soldiers, nor pressure from the government to put an end to this practice. Trying to comprehend the situation, I am left with more questions than answers. How something so globally condemned has taken place in this country for so long? What is being done to protect these children?
My work will focus on two groups. The first group will consist of demobilized children from these armed groups. I will interview and photograph their emotions, personal spaces and external interactions as they carry on with their lives outside war. The second group will be of current child soldiers. While access to armed groups requires mutual trust built over time, I have been granted access to an ELN front consisting mainly of child soldiers. In short, my work will provide these young men and women a medium to share their experiences and generate a conversation to consider a life beyond the theater of war.
My work does not aim to provide justifications for the actions of these children as combatants, but to dissect the problem from the children’s point of view. The Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography will enable me to reach out to them, photograph their lives and bring forth to discussion a crisis long ignored in Colombia.
About the recipient:
Juan Arredondo is a photographer based in Bogotá and a member of Reportage by Getty Images Emerging Talent program.
In fall of 2009 through 2010 Juan interned for photographers Eugene Richards and Lori Grinker, and held a teacher assistant position at the International Center of Photography in New York City.
Born in New Jersey, Juan grew up in Colombia and relocated to the United States to pursue undergraduate and graduate studies in Organic Chemistry. While working as a research scientist at a major pharmaceutical company he became interested in photography.
Juan's work has been recognized by PDN Photo Annual, PX3 Prix de la Photographie, The Yarka Vendriska Scholarship and the Magenta Foundation as a Flash Forward Emerging Photographers winner. He has been selected for the Eddie Adams Workshop and nominated for the World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass.
Juan is a regular contributor for The New York Times and his photographs have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Der Spiegel and LeMonde Magazine among others. His work has been commissioned by International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Save the Children.
Juan now lives between Bogotá and New York City.