The Dream Factory

Chapter I – Medellín, Colombia

In one of the most inequitable societies on earth for many, all they have are their distractions and their dreams. The Dream Factory is not so much about football, but about the deep irony that in a way the youths find a more level playing field on the sloped streets and ragged pitches of the city’s poor barrios than they do in life. In this once most violent but still quite violent city in the midst of the Andes Mountains of Colombia chances are few and all too often the first that present themselves are those offered by mafias that control illicit trades.

A football game in the Independencias II neighbourhood of the 13th Commune of Medellín. This was the first tournament since a stray bullet killed one of the players on the pitch several months earlier.

I embarked on the project as the city embarked on a process of pacification as the hundreds of armed gangs came under the umbrella of the AUC (right-wing paramilitaries with strong links to narcotrafficking) who had negotiated with the government and had begun a “reinsertion” process. Territories where one had to previously negotiate one’s presence and where taking photographs at will could have produced certain complications were now open to me and I took advantage of this window to walk the city and move in and out of barrios at will.

The city was under the control of a so-called Donbernabilidad (rather than governability), named after the paramilitary chief Don Berna, aka Adolfo Paz, who was now the head of what had previously been hundreds of small gang structures. i came to know many of the gang chiefs during the project and also many of the stood-down gang members. Many were interested in football – some passionately – and they liked the project I was doing.

I wanted to show the poorer neighbourhoods of the city where the excluded lived but I wanted to show it in its best light with an element of the most positive of things – healthy competition kicking a ball around where there were winners and losers but they could all come together after to share and on another day play the whole thing out again. I saw in football a kind of dance – sometimes a pogo at others a ballet – it was often the poor appropriating the spaces of their neighbourhoods to play.

Some, very few though, would have the talent and have it recognised and find in the uneven playing fields of the city an opportunity to “be someone,” something that was all too often denied to their peers. As I wandered the city with a 6×7 Mamiya camera to take the pictures I would often explain the project to the good folk of the valley sides that it was the poorest, the most marginalised and discriminated against, often those who were darker skinned who carried the pride of the nation on their shoulders during the World Cup and other international football tournaments.

The Matthew Effect

If only Colombia could offer more opportunities to its excluded masses, then the country would not be so plagued by its reputation for criminality and violence.

The photographs were shown in Medellín, though not as I had imagined nor wanted. I don’t think that the project sat very well with those who controlled and took the decisions relating to culture, but those people were from the privileged classes who hold their positions because of who they are and the class they come from rather than being of any real talent. In many ways, it was fitting that it was not embraced by them as the city and the country still have a long way to go before they can realise their full potential and the children of the poor can aspire to decent work and decent futures.

One can always dream and as on the sloped hillside streets or the ragged pitches of the barrios, in play and in the realms of the Dream Factory one can aspire to greater things and imagine a different future less loaded down by the dominance of the privileged.


Barrio Paris – Bello

Chapter II – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Chapter III – Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Chapter IV – Acsunción, Paraguay.

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