Interviews with Tim Hetherington Award Winners: Oscar B Castillo


In 2013 Carlos Castillo won The Tim Hetherington Memorial Award in association with Eddie Adams Workshop. The award was set up to support young documentarians who are actively pursuing a career dedicated to humanitarian subjects.

Castillo was born and brought up in Caracas, Venezuela. The conflict and violence occurring in his home country prompted Castillo to document the environment with an in-depth perspective on its impact on civil life. He has been closely following security forces, government supported para-militias, street gangs and jail mafias that are controlling the cities in order to get a deeper understanding of the most hidden manifestations of violence and its relation with the political scene and daily lives of Venezuela’s inhabitants.

1. How has your project about the violence in your home country, Venezuela, been going?

My project about the causes and consequences of violence in Venezuela has been steadily growing.Besides photography itself I've been given close access to those in connection with the cycle of violence and to the context where it grows. Recently, I've been working with survivors of gun violence, relatives of victims and dealing with the realities of the political chaos and the violence's different manifestations.

Also, I have been looking at prisons in Venezuela that, for me, represent the most complete example of how Venezuelan systems are completely upside down. The lack of cohesive plans, a continuing signal given by the authorities to stop the growing wave of violence has become a structural problem and has, by omission or collaboration, driven many low rank criminal groups into organized crime that are constantly expanding their areas of action.

2. Is it difficult to document events which are personal to your own history?

It is difficult in the way it touches not only my journalistic interest and photographic curiosity but also there are personal feelings and relations that are embedded into the story as well. There are friends and family mixed into these experiences. It is hard to see both as a photographer and as a resident.

That makes it more difficult to deal with because I worry even when I am not taking pictures. The worry follows me in my free time, at the super market, at parties, in every day conversation and sometimes even in dreams. But at the same time it motivates me even more. It gives me a reason to continue and helps me better understand the value of the work and of the discussion and dialogue about these subjects, so that they are not kept in the shadows.

3. Have you had much reaction from audiences?

Reactions from audiences have been really interesting and inspiring. They give me feed back on how the project has given them a better understanding of the realities of the violence. They see stories of pain but also of hope.

Besides from photography itself the project has been more about understanding human relations. Spending time and processing the personal experience has given me the ability to share the experience with people related to the story and make it accessible and understandable to those far away. With time I'm understanding the importance of quality versus quantity. I think it is necessary to reach an audience as diverse and as wide as possible, but is even more important that that audience really analyze the subject and understand the importance of taking part in the debate to improve the collective condition. For me the ultimate value of photography is that it is a tool, a personal expression aiming to collaborate with the collective discussion.  

4. How do you showcase the realities of the situations you are documenting while also retaining a voice that is recognizable as your own?

It is a constant internal debate in which I'm trying to find a balance between my own vision, style, language and aesthetics, but also trying to keep it readable, without simplifying the discourse.

Personal style will always be secondary when confronted with the importance of including other voices into the dialogue. More than a visual mark I am looking for a personal way of working and living with the experience, closer to the subject than to the image. I think working in that way makes the voice of the work more recognizable.

5. What do you hope to achieve as a documentarian in the future?

Specifically related to this project I aim to have a coherent body of work that, with time, will help both myself and the audience understand the steps made (or not made) towards stopping the bloodshed and into reconciliation. I want to show the ups and downs of our mentality, our spirituality, how I think we are relating to each other in this period and what consequences these ways of acting are bringing to the entire population and over to the youngest generations.

I aim to represent our context with its bright and dark sides, with all our contradictions, collective guiltiness and our hopes (currently empty because of the lack of hard work). More than achieve something for myself I want to contribute to the collective success. Sadly success does not seem close at the moment. 
It's taking too long, it's getting too late.

Interviews with Tim Hetherington Award Winners: Oscar B Castillo