The Family of Luis and other films

An evening of film screenings and conversation about visual ethnography and its limits


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Artistic legacies
  • Public culture

Organizing Institutions



Jason Francisco

Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Slought is pleased to announce The Family of Luis and other films, an evening of film screenings by Laurence Salzmann, followed by a conversation about visual ethnography and its limits. The program will take place at Slought on Friday October 6, 2023 from 6-9pm and will include screening of excerpts from five documentary films set in Latin America, including The Family of Luis, El Rayo, La Lucha/ Tales of the Inca, and Écheleganas / Do Your Best. These screenings will be followed by a public conversation with the artist in dialogue with Jason Francisco, a photographer and essayist at Emory University, and Yolanda Carbajal Zuniga, a Peruvian scholar. The event is free and open to the public, and light refreshments will be provided. This is among the first of several events celebrating the gift of Salzmann's archive to the University of Pennsylvania's Kislak Center. An exhibit on his work, "A Life with Others," will be on display at the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center until December 4.

The film program will feature images and video that span four countries and six decades, and introduce us to the indigenous Peruvians, Afro-Cuban wrestlers, Mexican farmers and emigrants who whose lives Salzmann sought to document. If they offer an anthropological view into cultures little understood by North Americans, they also testify to Salzmann's relationships with his subjects and his commitment to avoiding didacticism and a documentary aesthetic. Salzmann lived within the communities he depicts in these films for months and at times years, and learned to speak their languages, including Spanish and Quechuan, an indigenous language that has endured since the Incan empire.

Following the screening, Salzmann and his interlocutors, including Yolanda Carbajal Zuniga, an indigenous, Quechuan-speaking collaborator, will explore the challenges of creating art that documents other cultures. How does Salzmann's work both respond to and resist prior historical and anthropological methodologies, which have often reflected a colonizing gaze? How can visual ethnography support and strengthen communities through an ethics of collaboration and a commitment to the preservation of memory and cultural heritage? How can artists prevent the lens of the camera from becoming an instrument of alienation and othering?

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Laurence Salzmann's life as a professional photographer spans more than half a century and traverses four continents. This vast visual body of work is at the same time fine art and anthropological field research, displaying ethnographic and aesthetic qualities. His interdisciplinary projects cover a range of human experiences and geographical locales, documenting indigenous people in Mexico, Cuba, and Peru, the last surviving members of Jewish communities in Romania and Turkey, Black-Jewish relationships in the United States, life in single room occupancy hotels in New York City during the 1960s, and lived experiences on the streets of Philadelphia.

A free symposium on Salzmann's approach and archive will take place at the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center at the University of Pennsylvania on October 10.

Featured films:

• "The Family of Luis," Mexico (15:24)
• "El Rayo," Colombia (58:06)
• "Tales of the Inca," Peru (41:37)
• "La Lucha / The Struggle," Cuba (27:15)
• "Echeganas / Do your best," Mexico, 2005 (Excerpts)