Diego Bendezu captures brotherhood and resilience among Venezuelan migrants

From soap sud details to tracing a subject’s history through their tattoos, the New-York based photographer seeks to reveal the determination of these Venezuelan men.

10 July 2023

If you were to visit a hand car wash service, you'd likely see bodies working together in a seamless chain; spray, soap, rinse, wipe, repeat, as soap suds hit the ground. Although it’s a familiar sight for many of us, the New York-based Peruvian photographer Diego Bendezu believes that not enough of us know or understand the journey of some of its workers.

As such, his latest body of work Dear Lima is inspired by the “resilience and work ethic of young Venezuelan migrants in San Martin de Porres [a northern district in the country’s capital Lima]”, Diego says, as he seeks to showcase their determination, courage and brotherhood. “I want to give them a voice, challenge stereotypes and foster empathy”. And so, what initially started as small conversations with the men on trips to the car wash with his father, has blossomed into a vast and emotionally revealing project for the photographer and those captured by his lens.

The quality and depth of Dear Lima isn’t merely up to Diego’s talent and skill. It’s also in the way he can describe the very specific details he learned about the men while photographing them. “I learned that one of the men’s mothers only earns the minimum wage back in Venezuela and another couldn’t afford to go back,” he tells us. In a trio of photos of one of the men, Diego captures his lived experience through his tattoos, his cap placed on a bollard and his hands at work holding a blue hose. The blue of his cap and the blue of the hose almost have a synergy, highlighting the car wash as their portal to a new life. “They are the heroes of their own story. All of them are the first to leave their home country and are here to provide a better life for their families back home”.

GalleryDiego Bendezu: Dear Lima (Copyright © Diego Bendezu, 2023)

Black and white photographs hold a special place throughout the body of work. They’re up close and personal; a man takes down his hair, another soaps a car while smoking a cigarette and two let their eyes tell the story. The men aren’t in a bubble but they are a part of this community that Diego feels his connection with is meant to be. “Growing up as an immigrant in a country like the United States gave me perspective and introduced me to all that is endured in pursuit of a better life,” he tells us. “One of my favourite black and white images is a still life of soapy water running down the floor. It’s simple, but I enjoy its ability to make us stop and look at the streams and textures. It’s almost like an artificial aerial view of the Andes Mountains and the Amazon River combined.”

Throughout Dear Lima, Diego depicts these men as more than bodies working as part of a chain, but men full of life and a crucial part of the history of emigration from Venezuela. “An important thing to me is representing Jonathan [the owner] as the warm and caring boss that he is. He has provided opportunities for these guys during very challenging periods. He refers to them as ‘his boys’ and speaks about wanting them to succeed and go farther than his car wash.” And with every flick, he showcases Jonathan and the men’s ability to build a brotherhood even in the face of hardship; making a family where they are, while working for those they left behind.

GalleryDiego Bendezu: Dear Lima (Copyright © Diego Bendezu, 2023)

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Diego Bendezu: Dear Lima (Copyright © Diego Bendezu, 2023)

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About the Author

Yaya Azariah Clarke

Yaya (they/them) joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in June 2023 and became a staff writer in November of the same year. With a particular interest in Black visual culture, they have previously written for publications such as WePresent, alongside work as a researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.

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