victor cobo – american dreams [EPF Finalist]

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Victor Cobo

American Dreams

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Emerging Photographer Fund – FINALIST (number eight of eleven)

American Dreams is a complex, anthropological tour through the landscape of the indigenous Central American – by means of memory, spirituality, longing and isolation.

Lives are concentrated with a vibrancy, an intensity of being that many of us have never experienced. The under-represented reality between fiction and objective thought.  An existence akin to a world fueled and charged by love and loss, by commitment to family and the need for survival at all costs.  One that cannot be bound by laws from political systems on either side of the border.  Often this human drama is intensified with its reflection of deprivation.  Yes, there is struggle.  There is also joy, and the life of a dream, of opening a pathway heretofore unacknowledged in American society.  It is here that the viewer is urged to ponder the relationship between the real and the surreal or imagined, and to question their own existence in comparison to that of the subjects’.

Perhaps a brief journey through this stream of consciousness will remind the American public and their politicians of the fundamental humanity shared between themselves and the immigrants, whose lives have become such political playthings.


Victor Cobo (b. 1971) is a self-taught photographer from San Francisco who comes from an artistic family, and was originally trained in painting and life-drawing.  Cobo grew up in northern California where his earliest memories of photography involved stealing his stepfather’s 35mm point and shoot camera, playing dress up and creating theatrical images with teenage friends.  In 1999 he was sacked from his graphic design job when management discovered inappropriate photographs on his cubicle wall he had taken while wandering the streets of San Francisco during his lunch breaks. Thus began his full time career as a fine art photographer.

Victor Cobo’s work has been reviewed in American Suburb X, Ojo De Pez and Private.  His photographs are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Aaron Siskind Permanent Collection and the Amon Carter Museum as well as in many private collections.  In 2007 he won the Aaron Siskinf Foundation IPF

Grant and in 2009 his work was included in “Masters of American Photography” at the Amon Carter Museum in Dallas.

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Victor Cobo


Editor’s Note: Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

39 Responses to “victor cobo – american dreams [EPF Finalist]”

  • CONGRATULATIONS Victor on being chosen a finalist!

    I loved the essay when it was first published here and am happy to see you and the project included now and hope that many of the nay-sayers then will have had time to see the power and narrative magic of the work.

    all the best

  • victor..
    excellent.. i showed this to my class when it was first published and they could see the talent.. the presentation here is hitting top speed..

  • This is the most pointless of the EPF essays presented in my opinion. Images strung together with a “theme” that seems an afterthought expressed in “arty” language. Hard to understand why this was selected as a finalist essay.

  • Conceptually strong, for those who don’t get it, it’s worthwhile checking the web site. You may not enjoy all you see but the pieces will start to fall in place, just take the ride…………

  • many very fine pictures, but I agree somehow with Jim.

  • interesting conceptual approach to documentary work. the website fleshes it out.

    Mr. Powers use ofthe word “pointless” is exactly the type of language that has reduced this site and the behavior. No surprise that one of the strongest contributors to this magazine, in terms of content and photography, Mr. Bob Black, has left.

    As a professional, I am surprised that more havent been turned off by this kind of ‘pointless’ criticism.



  • I rarely comment but am always here looking at the pictures and learning from the discussions. Although I frequently disagree with many of the comments Jim Powers makes, I don’t think he in any way “reduces” the discussion here. I happen to appreciate the critical eye he brings to bear on the work published by burn. He’s one of the few who do.

    As for this essay, I’ll say this: we shouldn’t have to “check his website” in order to “get it.” The photographer chose his edit, and chose to write a few paragraphs explaining the project, but left out captions (should we need those?).

  • some of the pictures turn me on, but a “conceptual approach to documentary work” I disagree with. It looks like a collection of pictures that were chosen from a vast collection based on their visual impact. I would have mistaken this for a group show rather than a single photographer. There is a theme but the thred linking the images is missing, I guess that Victor has a large collection of images to choose from, but I would like the narative to read stronger as I progress through the images. The images for me are too scattered for me to draw any conclusions about the subject.

    P.S. “No suitable nodes are available to serve your request.” is the reply when I try to look at your website from Beijing.

  • jesus that i love this work! birth, family, taking care of the ones we love, cross the river to embrasse a better future for those who stay taking care of the house the land… to not fall in disgrace… survive…

    image: this chaos of “lack” of technique, is a kind of style, for me of course. it can be better? of course! otherwise the author wouldn’t even bother to send this essay for evaluation.

    all the best,

  • Congrats to Victor, but I have to agree with Page, Jim and Marcin.

  • Original…
    Unique style…
    Again.. One of the best of the bestest best..
    Absofuckinglutely …

  • Congratulations on making the EPF cut, Victor. I find some of the photographs interesting (1,4,5,15) but some redundant (2,3,8). Photograph 16, your opening shot is, for me, close but no cigar. I can see why you want to keep it, but it looks a little over exposed (is this film or digital?) and your subject, the people, too much obscured. The intro, for me, is not reflected in the photographs, at least not enough to be successful.

    Welcome to the Bear Pit, victor! Be true to yourself and your vision.

    Best wishes,


  • I think I commented on this work when it first ran on Burn. I liked it then, and I like it now.

    But I will say that photographers (Victor included) do themselves no favors with preachy, pretentious, and condescending “artist statements” that interpret their own work. The photos are the photos, and the statement should provide some context for them. But I as a viewer and reader recoil in disgust when the photographer tells me what his work is all about. I will decide if it is “complex,” and I don’t need to be reminded of the “humanity shared between [myself] and the immigrants.” This is really talking down to your audience.

    Readers and viewers delight in discovering something for themselves. Artists are poor critics of their work anyway – and their statements are categorically to be discarded. Do we want, for example, Gabriel Garcia Marquez interpreting “Love in the Time of Cholera” for us? No, that’s not his job.

    Whatever nuances the photographer wants me to appreciate in his work I will find them for myself. Telling me what they are in an artist’s statement takes away all the fun.

  • congratulations Victor!

    I like this new edit. Captions (as in your website) would be useful in some cases to get the context of the shot… and also the polaroid shot is better contextualized on your website’s sequence, imo. The party shot is gorgeous: is it already available in BURN gallery? ;)

  • Victor I think has taken a journey with these folks. Is this a story about the journey? Damn I hate it when I need to ask the basics, but this piece is one of the chosen 11. There’s some really cool stuff here. The lead image is such a story in itself. I wish I could have an explanation of each pic. It might help understand how they relate.

    Words are not a sin. Victor has some pictures which beg explaining. -Every Picture Tells a Story, Don’t it- Rod Stewart, 1971. I know it’s lame, so Victor, give me context so I don’t have to remind myself of such shallow and worthless music. Akma (Civi) has infused me with song and kindness so I only want to be useful.

    I’ve traveled the border so I guess I have my bias, but I guess you’re another EPF scholar who needs to complete your journey. Ain’t this what this place is all about?

  • For me, this is not a photographic essay at all, but an essay with photos. PhotoGRAPHY is the least element in it, only when I came to this conclusion do I come to term with your essay and fully enter the realm where your thoughts invite us, Victor. (For fear of being misunderstood,I am being positive here, not negative).

    On the facts of immigration, as treated often thru the Arts (how many border-crossing illegal immigrants will see Victor’s essay? Is it only for “us”?) it is as if the countries they came from do not exist. There is only immigrants and “America”? But surely, for anyone wanting to dig deeper into what immigration represents, shouldn’t the places we migrate from, still inhabit the purpose, (artistic or political) with which we seek or ask understanding of what comes to mean immigrant?

  • Victor,
    Congratulations, imo you rocked this essay! Glad to see someone unafraid to mix styles, exploring a concept with a variety of tools… It doesn’t lessen the power of the message (for me) at all — I love versatile photographers. Though I’ve admired the technical prowess of some of the other finalist’s essays, I am finally FEELING an EPF finalist’s story, with all of its loose threads. There is no “neat” answer to this subject, so how you’ve been exploring this world with your camera makes perfect sense to me. You are really there with these people, showing us both a window and a mirror.

    What a subject! It could easily consume a lifetime of picture making. Bravo on your excellent work.

  • I can’t help but stupidly agree with all the critics of this work. It does not have cohesion, it does not have the stamp of a photographer with a singular point of view, and it does not move me.

  • I am confused by the use of the word America in this essay. It is a very common and aggravating practice by people in the USA to call themselves Americans and their country America. When you say American Dreams it is not clear, are you talking about the dreams we all share as Americans in North and Central and South America? Then you talk about immigrants, so are do you mean their dream is to move to the USA? And what is American society anyway? You cannot talk about society in either the context of the USA or North America or Central America as a monolithic entity like that without being painfully reductive. I find the photographs to be as muddled as the essay, although there are some that stand out.

  • This essay is shallow, annoying and offensive to me. The photographer says this is a ¨complex, anthropological tour through the landscape of the indigenous Central American¨ Which country in Central America? There are five CA countries and no, they are not interchangeable. I do not think it is fair to lump all the countries and all the histories and all the struggles and all the experiences together. It is not only the Central American indigenous who struggles to go to the US and achieve the American dream. But i have no idea which country these people are from and that would tell me a great deal. History, political repression, dictators, right wing death squads, human rights abuses, gangs, kidnappings, personal insecurity, poverty..these can make a huge difference in the psychology of one immigrant group from another. The American dream might be the same but the baggage is completely different.

    i don´t really see the struggle of a journey here. In fact i have no idea what side of the border i am even looking at most of the time. If they´re in the US, well they don´t look/dress/act any differently there than they did back home. So the struggle to achieve the American dream is not clear to me either, aside from the dollars in the photo with the religious figure and the bus stop with a sign about immigrants. The photo of the big parking lot and the street light i have no idea what the heck that one´s about at all. This essay does not inspire any particular sentiment or empathy in me or remind me of the humanity that i share with these individuals. In fact the photo of the poor girl passed out on the sidewalk makes me think you don´t feel much empathy either.

    ¨Lives are concentrated with a vibrancy, an intensity of being that many of us have never experienced.¨ Bullshit. I mean, really….¨by commitment to family and the need for survival at all costs¨, Yes, this is true..probably the only thing in your text or your photos that makes any sense to me and that does typify the poor Latino struggling to rise above his circumstances, whether at home or in the US. There is a terrible tension and ambivalence between needing to survive and also take care of the rest of the family who is not as fortunate. If you are to continue with this subject and if you can express this deep ambivalence, well, then you would be getting somewhere.

    By the way, the one photo that i really love is the Polaroid of the guy in front of the Walmart. This alone expresses to me the position of an immigrant in the US. It is so incredibly poignant, profound and personal to me.

    best of luck

  • This Gringo likes this mix..

    …Four Eyes

  • embracing the contingency… an essay that demands intelligence from the viewer. I say bravo to this.
    But now, the real question is… ladies and gentlemen, place your bet, who’s next? (Will Erica McDonald be third, second or first?)

  • i honestly didn’t get it.
    and as has been mentioned, i shouldn’t have to check his site to understand it better.
    for me, it felt like these were just some images thrown together.
    i’m glad that some people could view this and understand and get their heads around it, but i was not one of those people.
    this i not an attack on victor. he obviously has talent to get this far!

  • photos…
    drenched in milk….
    in bed,
    on the ground….

  • I have to agree that this looks like a collection of mismatched pictures without continuity. Frankly I’m surprised this is a finalist

  • I agree with Jim, PT.

  • very inspirational job…this work reminds me of my not so far daily photo-wanderings, in a period after i lose my job, before deciding that photography was a thing I wanted to live on..

  • I too can’t understand how this essay got chosen, or the photographer for that matter. Some decent pictures there, but really nothing more than a collection of singles. Absolutely no cohesion or attempt to tell a story.

  • First of all, I agree with Jim´s, Stupid´s and Kathleen´s opinion.
    From my point of view as a Central American, I don´t understand the context of these pictures, it´s a subject treated superficially and with very badly managed information. It talks about “indigenous people” and most of the subjects in the pictures don´t even have indigenous factions. It talks about “memory, spirituallity, longing and isolation”, photographing from a trivial perspective without conceptual deepness, which leaves lots to think about what the photographer really wants to communicate.
    Its the typical cliche of the first world photographer that observes the third world as if being at the top of the ladder, creating a really vague image of the central americans y their migratory processes.
    Photographically it lacks coherence, it doesn´t leave a clear mature vision of a photographer.
    Concluding, i´m impressed that essays like these one have been selected, creating only superficial images of different cultures, in which there is evidence of no investigation, not even in the most basic terms.
    As a Central American I think of these essay as an intelectual insult for people who live here.

  • I have looked at these photos over and over again, and I think that, if you would have picked photos like the 06, 10, 11, 16, and 20, maybe your message would have been delivered more straightforwardly.

  • Victor,

    I like this piece. I view this essay like each image as a chapter tile..

  • First of all thanks to DAH for his generosity of making burn and EPF.

    All that follows is just my opinion but I have to say that or I haven’t the slightest idea of photography, or somebody has chosen the finalists using a scale that says the more unpleasant the better. For me this last essay is the straw that broke the camels back. In the world there is more than misery, squalor and sordidness. In news photography we already have the problem of considering that “only bad news are news”.

    This grant was for every stile of photography and by now I see it was only for “conceptual” (whatever this word means: strange? incomprehensible? ugly?). What happens with documentary photography? I’m sure that between the over 1200 essays submitted to EPF there is people that have make wonderful efforts trying to show something unknown about a place or about people.

    Between the eight finalists I have already seen there are only two that I like: “Aftermath” and “Sakhalin”. Many of the rest are still acceptable, but not good enough to be finalists between 1200 essays! Is really this all the best we have?

    And I see many people here trying to look smart by attributing overwhelming depth to something that is just superficial.

    I said before that may be is that I haven’t the slightest idea of photography, in that case I would be grateful if somebody tried to explain it to me.


  • Wonderful photographs. A glimpse into a world most of us will never get to see, except possibly thru these photographs. Truly nice work here.

  • The art which can’t be understood is truly a modern art.The peculiar approach stunned & shaked the judges.

  • I like No 11 but for the overall essay I feel it may be to localised and I from a different society have grave difficulties understanding your portrayal of the subject. It doesn’t speak volumes to me. I’m sure it is deep but I think your potential audience will have difficulty in assimilation.

    Having viewed a number of times ,I feel isolated from the subject matter – cold towards it. It doesn’t strike emotion in me. I’m sorry that I don’t understand it but that is how it has left me – Complete indifference to the subject matter. I don’t feel sadness or pity towards the subject – not that it was begging forgiveness or anything like that but it didn’t stretch my heart.

    I guess you may also choose not to be too concerned with those that don’t get it. Perhaps we are too far removed culturally from your intention. That is no criticism of your approach but a statement of reality on sections of the audience.

    I have viewed some of your other work and you are obviously a talented emerging talent. Congratulations on being selected and good luck with it.


  • I love it…..and I am glad that Harvey is running work like this. My immediate reaction is that the medium is the message, and the medium here is emerging. But in the context of a larger discussion, I think this work by Cobo has great value. But by itself, this is a bit too much like an cut and paste art project, something from Yale.

    Anyway, my vote goes to Rodrigo Cruz, based on his stills. Wait, he isn’t a finalist, is he……? But he will be in the next issue of 100eyes!

  • What a mess.

  • I don’t think it’s a mess. I can’t claim to get it, but I looked at all the images and felt I’d been somewhere. I think these are pictures you could spend time with and not regret it.

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