John B. Moore Documentary Studies Collaborative
John B. Moore Documentary Studies Collaborative

Photography, Archive, Story

UFCO Photograph

There is much we can learn from photographs, both those created for public view and those developed for private viewing or institutional purposes.  From a case study drawn from the United Fruit Company's early 20th century activities in Latin America, historian Kevin Coleman offers a lecture and a workshop to help bring these documentary resources into focus and tease out the stories they help reveal.

Wednesday, September 30, 5: 30 pm, Emerson Auditorium
The Photos We Don’t Get to See: 
Sovereignties, Archives, and the 1928 Massacre of Banana Workers in Colombia

   In 1928, five men posed for a picture in Magdalena, Colombia. A United Fruit Company supervisor subsequently sent that same photograph, along with a memo describing each of the subjects it depicted, to managers in the company’s other divisions, including the one in Bocas del Toro, Panama, where the photo and memorandum were discovered by an anthropologist some fifty years later. From the stray fragments that have leaked out of an archive that refuses to let us in, we can begin to retrace the images that we cannot see and the futures that capital and the state violently cut short.

Banana workers on strike in 1954. El Progreso, Honduras. Photograph by Rafael Platero Paz
Banana workers on strike in 1954. El Progreso, Honduras.
Photograph by Rafael Platero Paz

Thursday, October 1, 9:30 AM, LI 129 (Media Screening Room)
Storytelling with Archival Images

This 1 1/2 hour workshop offers an introduction to thinking through historical photography and photographs to recharge pasts that threaten to be forgotten. We will develop a set of conceptual and methodological tools for analyzing photographic images. In preparation for the workshop, participants are asked to read two essays: a journal article that uses photographs from a subaltern collection in Central America to propose a framework for historians who would like to work with visual archives as well as a foundational theoretical piece by Roland Barthes. In addition, bring a photograph that you might like to collaboratively interpret with other participants in the workshop!

 Interested?  Sign up via e-mail at mdocs (@)

Alex Chaucer
Kevin Coleman


About Kevin Coleman

Coleman is Assitant Professor in Historical Studies at the University of Toronto. He is a historian of modern Latin America, specializing in the history of U.S.-Latin American encounters and visual culture. He is currently working on a history of photography and political culture in a banana-company town on the Caribbean Coast of Central America and finishing up his first book,  A Camera in the Garden of Eden: The Self-Forging of the Banana Republic, which features over one hundred rare photographs. In the book, he argues that Honduras, a “banana republic,” was an imperial constellation of images and practices that was locally checked and contested by the people of the town of El Progreso, where the United Fruit Company (now known as Chiquita Brands) had one of its main divisional offices. As banana plantation workers, women, and peasants posed for pictures and, more emblematically, staged the General Strike of 1954, they forged new ways of being while also visually asserting their rights as citizens.

Coleman feels that photography offers a unique perspective into history, and into social and political movements. “If you are able to work with photographs as historical documents, but also as objects that communicate in ways that are different from texts, or from other aspects of material culture, then we have access to the subjectivities of people that are otherwise not present in the historical record,” says Coleman. He explains that in many instances photographs are the only documentary evidence left behind by some of the banana workers and that these image objects offer insights into the lives they lived, along with an opportunity to “retrieve histories” that have otherwise been decimated.  --Carla DeMarco, "FreezeFrame"

In addition to training in history and philosophy, Coleman has dedicated himself to serving others in remote Central American, as well as urban North American, communities. The two and a half years that he spent as a Peace Corps volunteer in southern Honduras—living and working with campesinos and developing friendships that continue to this day—provided the impetus that led to  the research for his forthcoming book and enabled him to gain a rich body of experiences that he draws upon as he teaches Latin American history.

For more about Coleman, see the full article and his website,