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Retelling the Migrant Experience: Photographer Felipe Romero Beltran's Book, ‘Dialect’



Felipe Romero Beltrán is a Spanish-based Colombian photographer. Felipe Romero Beltrán is not your average photographer. He doesn’t just take pictures– he tells stories. He is a photographer on a mission to capture social issues with his lens, with his focus on political conflicts in Latin America and Spain, he is always pushing boundaries and his latest work, ‘Dialect’ is no different. 


Felipe Romero Beltrán: Courtesy photographer Instagram account.

While actively using his photography to tell stories he simultaneously pursues a Ph.D. program on photography.


The inspiration for his book, ‘Dialect’


The inspiration for Felipe Romero Beltrán's book, ‘Dialect,’ started when a sense of camaraderie struck him when he saw nine teenage Moroccan migrants in southern Spain. This inspired him to start a three-year project. Beltrán, who himself is an immigrant, has long been troubled by the overly simplistic and frequently sensationalized depictions of immigrants in documentary photography. 


During an interview with The Cut, Beltrán shared his observation about the prevalent portrayal of tragedies or epic events surrounding migration in various forms of media. He noted that we often witness scenes of people getting off boats or struggling to survive in harsh conditions. 


Felipe Romero Beltrán's observation implies that the media tends to focus on extreme events of migration and neglects the everyday experiences of the migrants. He believes that this type of representation can distort our perception of reality and overshadow the nuances of human life. His comment encourages us to look beyond the sensational and pay attention to the ordinary moments that make up our lives.


Photo: Courtesy of Photographer’s Instagram.

The photographer considers the significance of documentaries in portraying "the other," a representation method that extends back to the previous century. However, the photographer and author advise that we reevaluate this strategy and begin again from scratch.


Rather than depending on old methods of describing individuals who are different from us, we must approach the subject with an open mind and look for new ways to communicate their story. Felipe Romero emphasizes the need to question our assumptions and accept variety in all questioning our assumptions and accepting diversity in all its forms. 


Felipe believes It's time to reconsider how we portray the globe and its inhabitants, and documentaries can be an effective instrument in this attempt and that he started his book, ‘Dialect’


The book, ‘Dialect’


Photo: Courtesy of photographer’s Instagram account.

Felipe’s most recent work, a project which he started in 2020,  Dialect, captures the autonomy of these young migrants by allowing them to express their identities independently rather than according to social norms, as is often the case. The group is documented as they are detained by the government in Seville, Spain, a stopover for migrants traveling across the Mediterranean Sea in pursuit of legal status. 


(State detention of undocumented and minor migrants can last up to three years while they wait for formal documentation.)


Beltrán initially encountered the group at a theater workshop for migrants' social integration, where he was asked to share his own first-hand knowledge of migration with the audience. He was born in Bogotá, studied photography in Buenos Aires, then spent two years living in Israel and Palestine before traveling to Madrid to work on his Ph.D. in photography. He was undocumented when he arrived as well. He talked with the migrants for a considerable amount of time and shared ideas and experiences, which made Beltrán feel particularly connected to them. He is currently in Mexico filming on the Bravo television series. 


Photo: Courtesy of Photographer’s Instagram.

He was amazed by the group's distinct communication style, which was expressed through their body, as he spent more time with them. They portrayed a macho, muscular picture of males that felt very different from his own physique; this observation gave Beltrán the idea for the term Dialect for his project. He uses the body as a powerful metaphor for the journeys and state of limbo experienced by these people as they wait to begin their new lives in the photos, some of which are staged.


Felipe Romero Beltrán's book, 'Dialect,' focused on the everyday moments and nuances of the lives of immigrants. By doing so, 'Dialect' offers a thought-provoking and insightful look into the migrant experience that encourages empathy and understanding. Photographer Felipe’s works are not only set to challenge boundaries but are also bound to leave a legacy.

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