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Carl Bower: Columban beauty pageants project

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‘Miss Coffee’ from ‘Chica Barbie.’ ©Carl Bower

There’s a fascinating interview on the Livebooks photo blog with Carl Bower, who did a photo essay on Colombian beauty pageants. The pageants are a national obsession over there, and Bower’s comments about how his perceptions changed during the project are well worth reading.


One of the first things I had trouble reconciling was the absolute mania over the pageants with an environment where the threat of violence was nearly ubiquitous. More than half of the Colombians who invited me into their homes eventually showed me “The Picture.” The face in the photo was always different, but I came to expect and dread the moment it would come out. A brother killed by the FARC. Someone’s else’s brother, killed for the pesos in his pocket. A friend kidnapped years ago who hadn’t been seen since.

The woman who introduced me to the fashion designer went to the funeral of a very close friend, then held a huge party at her apartment only a few days later. I asked if it was difficult, having it so soon. She gave me a long look. “If we went into a period of mourning every time someone we knew was killed, we wouldn’t have time for anything else.”