Joao Pina

Shadow of the Condor


“Operation Condor” was a 1970s secret military plan sponsored by the United States during the Dirty War years, which aimed to eliminate the political opponents to the right wing military regimes. It took place in six countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.

It officially started in late 1975, when the secret services had a meeting in Santiago, Chile to define a strategy to use common resources and exchange information, man power and techniques to execute the plan. Thousands of people, mostly left wing workers and students, were arrested, tortured and executed, leading to 60,000 deaths, although a final number could never be confirmed because of the number of mass executions.

This project aims to show the scars and enormous impact left on the survivors and families of those who were killed. From the Amazon jungle in Brazil to the cold lands of Patagonia, thousands of victims still lay buried in unmarked graves, and the survivors struggle to cope with their memories.

Since the beginning of this investigation back in 2005, I have begun to take interviews with victims and families of those who disappeared, and have also visited sites of imprisonment, executions, and burials. I believe that by making these images I can help build a collective memory about the people behind this secretive operation who have never been held accountable.

I will return to the region and continue to build this body of work in Bolivia and Paraguay. These two countries still require much time to research and photograph. I will talk to survivors like Martin Almada, a lawyer who found the archives where thousands of documents prove the existence of “Operation Condor” in Paraguay.

No complete documentary project of this scope in all six countries has ever been completed, and none relying on photographs has been attempted. I hope to help generations of South Americans to know and understand the story of their countries.




Joao Pina was born in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1980, he began working as a photographer at age of 18.

His images have been published in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Time Magazine, Newsweek, Stern, GEO, El Pais, D Magazine, Visão and others.

In 2007 he published his first book “Por teu livre pensamento” featuring 25 former Portuguese political prisoners. The book inspired an Amnesty International advertising campaign that won a Lion d’Or award, at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity 2011.

He has also been awarded the Estação Imagem grant in 2010 and a finalist for the Henri Nannen, Care award. Until 2010 he lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he continues to document the remnants of “Operation Condor”, a secret military operation to destroy the political opposition to the dictatorships in South America in the 1970s.

Lately he has been a privileged observer of the “Arab Spring”, traveling on several occasions to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, while continuing his work in Latin America.


15 thoughts on “Joao Pina – Shadow of The Condor”

  1. Interesting work and even though it doesn’t really matter, the use of a Hasselblad medium format camera does give it a different aura, everything slows down compared to 35mm. Interesting how this is essay is published just as David’s preparing his Roadtrip with his 6×7 camera.
    Having a profound hatred for anything generally political I am always amused how people take sides depending on their political views. But why not just an essay on all the horrors BOTH the right wing and the left wing military governments have caused in the last sixty years?

  2. Well Paul, if you consider the U.S. Democrats and Republicans to be left and right wing, this is an essay depicting horrors both left and right have perpetrated.

  3. Joao! :))

    “In this world of ours, a world of powerful centers and subjugated outposts, there is no wealth that must not be held in some suspicion.” ― Eduardo Galeano

    the rhyming of the light in the outstretched arms of the shadow….

    so happy to see this here Joao :))…nothing to write now, just this:

    if you haven’t already, PLEASE read Roberto Bolano’s ‘By Night in chile’….

    for me, the finest short book on this issue (along with Bolano’s ‘Distant Star’, which is an evisceration of the heart)….

    happy to see u here


  4. Hi, about the comments I want to point that the characteristic of the work tha Joao is doing is about south american dictatorships. And one of the most important things to consider, apart of what side each of us can take to interpret the work, is that the government used all the system to do the crimes. A guerrilla or some politic groups from both sides, left, right, did crimes. But what is terrible about what Joao is documenting is that the government authorities did crimes like steal babies from prisioners that were kidnapped, tortured and killed. This is a big difference. In two days end his application to get crow found the last phase of his project. this is the link

  5. mw, sorry, but from the perspective of non-Americans, politics in the US is either right or extreme right. There is no left, or even middle.

    I visited both Argentina and Chile in the seventies, especially in Chile, the fear on ordinary people’s faces was un-believable. What horror.

    From Teddy Roosevelt to the present day, American foreign policy has been brutal, dirty, ugly business.

    Congratulations Joao, wonderful work.

  6. Excellent, powerful, informative work about subject that back in those days we heard and read so many conflicting reports of US quilt and righteousness. I look forward to the compilation of the best and most informative photos, coupled with the knowledge you have gained and the opnions you will reached at the completion of your 7 year project.

    Just out of curiosity, if you are into answering questions, what motivated you to seek funding through rather thank Kickstarter?

  7. JOÃO,
    nice to see your work here in Burn. and also happy to find a portuguese photographer in here. keep up with your great work. congratulations.

    for those who don’t know, João Pina is a member of the portuguese collectif Kameraphoto. go to to find out more and to see the work of the twelve photographers and also their collective projects.

    His images have been published in (…) Visão and others.
    Visão is a portuguese weekly magazine.

    He has also been awarded the Estação Imagem grant in 2010 (…)
    Estação Imagem is a cultural association in Portugal responsible for the annual prize in photojournalism. you can see the work selected since 2010 at (click in prémio, and choose different categories and years).

    um forte abraço,
    Carlos Filipe

  8. I can feel the terror and fear in some of these…
    growing up in south america I will hear stories about this sort of thing.
    unmarked black cars with the lights off stopping people at night for questions, abductions and more…
    seeing it here like this puts an image to my memories.
    This is one of those essays where everything works…. Images, text, execution…it’s all there.
    Very well done Joao! Congratulations!

  9. Really glad to find you in here João. Been following this project for years and can’t wait for its completion. All the best for the final stage.

  10. Powerful!
    Thank you to add one another fine thing to our dirty world.
    Many points i appreciated in this project, but i want to write about the frames which really touched me. The images of “places”.
    When i saw all these faces (portraits of victims) parallel with places, it makes the story pure and honest. Not just because it is more documentary, because it necessitates the viewer to take a deep look at a very usual place or item (an airplane or a bathroom etc.).

    #01 #04 #07 and #20 was really touched me.

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