Culture in Cinema | setting the scene with David Díaz Gonzales

"Micrófono shinanyamawe, jawebiyama keskati bewawe"
Melanie Dizon
February 26, 2023

CULTURE IN CINEMA | setting the scene


In July of 2021, our founder Jack Wheeler received an email from an associate of the film director Todd Field regarding a particular photo that belonged to Shipibo-Konibo photographer David Díaz Gonzales. This photograph had been acquired by Todd Field through our fundraising campaign "Photos X Action" held during the time of the pandemic to aid with emergency services for the Shipibo-Konibo communities within the Ucayali region of Peru.
A Family Reunion by David Díaz Gonzales

Shortly after the email correspondence, a phone call between Jack, Todd Field and his team occurred to detail further into a mutual agreement for the production of a new photo by David Díaz Gonzales. With some previous experience in curating art for a film in the past, Jack was keen on being of guidance to David and the point person between Hollywood and David in order to realize a unique opportunity for the Shipibo artist. What began as a photo inquiry would soon turn into a subtle-but-key component of the experience that helped to shape the main character for the film TÁR played by Cate Blanchett.
In a recent interview with David Hill and Jack Wheeler, Todd remarks: “Both Cate and I were so appreciative of the care and consideration and collaboration we were able to experience with David as an artist. The final photograph was incredibly important, not just as a piece of narrative art direction, but as something that bound all of us in a truly meaningful way.”
We invited David Díaz Gonzales to also speak about his experience as a creative collaborator in this project...
David Díaz Gonzales with Ruperto Fasabi

Can you share some backstory with us regarding your relationship with Xapiri Ground?

My relationship with Xapiri Ground began in 2020 when I was invited to participate in a project called "Photos x Action" in which I donated some of my photos and from there surfaced other collaborations that finally helped me to have visibility and enable me to realize other personal projects such as the exhibition in Cusco of my work "Shipibo-Konibo: Portraits of My Blood."
Furthermore, I do consider that Xapiri Ground and the team behind it, have been until today, one of the most important relationships for the realization of my photographic career and how it’s taken off.

How did you get involved in this collaboration with TÁR?

Jack shared with me the news that a very important film director needed to contact me and that he wanted to purchase a photograph from me, specifically "A Shipibo-Konibo Family Reunion.” However, since he had other plans for the image I sought further explanation first before making a decision.
I had asked Jack to give him my email and phone number so he could contact me, having no idea of the magnitude of the professional work and production team with whom I had to speak not to mention the language barrier, since I don't speak English.
One morning, whilst having breakfast at my house in the locality of Nueva Era in Yarinacocha, Peru; I received a call from a very long number coming from Germany. The first thing I thought was that it was a marketing call and that I would hang up. In the end, I decided to answer and they told me that they were contacting me on behalf of Todd Field, but the language barrier was critical. So Jack Wheeler helped me on behalf of Xapiri Ground, so that I could continue the relationship which involved several meetings to get the project on track.

What influenced the creation of the photo re-enactment for this film?

As it happens, I think it was important for me to have had so much previous influence from other photographers, but also to have the knowledge of the cultural aspects of my people through observation and introspection. Although I already had the photograph in mind, I also had other ideas and proposed them to Todd. However, he decided to work on just the one which would adapt itself throughout the conversations with the whole production team.

Below is the photo that was executed by David for the film which was later photo manipulated at the studio in Germany by Olaf Heine at Focus Features.

Credit: David Díaz Gonzales & Olaf Heine @ Focus Features Courtesy of Todd Field

Who were the other members involved in the community to help realize this work?

They were close friends and relatives, but the one that really stands out is my grandfather Ruperto Fasabi.

Perhaps you can share some behind the scenes anecdotes on how this photograph came to be?

Well first of all, I didn't have a camera, so I had to borrow one from my brother-in-law. The shoot was done without studio flashes and using only natural window light. It was important that I had experience taking these kinds of pictures from my previous work, and that's why I felt all the confidence to go into it. I had no reservations.

Do you have some comments to share about your personal experience in this collaboration with Xapiri Ground? 

Well, as I mentioned, Xapiri Ground has been very important because through them I was able to make my work visible and to be the bridge between me and Todd.

How do you hope to engage or inform your community about this experience of production that utilizes aspects of your cultural identity? What are the rewards?

I believe that the objectives from which I started my photographic career - to bring visibility to the people - are being fulfilled. The proof of this is the presence; albeit in a subtle way, of the Shipibo-Konibo people in such a large and important production as TÁR.
In the first place, I am not much of sharing the work that I do, that is, I have always worked quietly, I think it is the best way to move forward in the realization of projects.
However, in this particular case, I think it is necessary to talk about the the work so that it can inspire other youth from the Shipibo-Konibo community and thus strengthen our identity.

This was quite a big moment in your photographic career alongside the increasing visibility of your work in the form of exhibitions and of course your photojournalism. What is some advice that you could give to future Shipibo-Konibo artists? 

I believe that everything is possible, with a lot of resilience, strength and perseverance. It is important to build ourselves personally in order to achieve our goals, to believe in ourselves. I hope that young people can replicate that. Everything is achieved by working at making those dreams come true.

On behalf of Xapiri Ground we thank David, Ruperto, the Shipibo-Konibo community, Todd, and the team at TÁR; with whom it was a pleasure to work, and for the creative trust that was rendered in this collaboration.