The Dream Factory

Chapter I – Medellín, Colombia

The Dream Factory is not so much about football as it is a surface portrait of a city – of the neighbourhoods (the barrios) that have sprouted up and grown organically principally in the north of Medellín and on the outer margins of the city.

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. The Colombian international Juan Fernando Quintero, of a displaced family and whose father was “disappeared” by the Colombian military, is from the 13th Commune.

Colombia is one the most inequitable societies on the face of the Earth and Medellín, like other large Colombian cities, has inequality built into its very fabric. Colombians are divided into social strata graded from six (the highest) to one (the lowest) and arguably there is a stratum zero made up of the new shanty neighbourhoods that constantly sprout up like some kind of knotweed.

In Medellín, the north is poorer and the south is wealthier. The wealthier neighbourhoods quietly absorb a disproportionate amount of local government budgets, have immaculately tarmacked roads and are more commonly the neighbourhoods where current and past mayors, heads of departments and functionaries reside.

As well as providing waged labour to the financially better-off and better-placed, government budgets are also a source of income for the corrupt and unscrupulous: public works are not necessarily designed and constructed by the most capable but by those who are surrounded by their privileged peers and get the contracts for works that are often only partially built, run enormously over budget and/or fall apart in a short period of time as if they were stuck together with masking tape. The construction industry in itself is greatly driven by election cycles and financial support for campaigns by constructors is a quid pro quo.

The children of six, five and even four will rarely if ever mix with those of one, two and three. They go to different schools and different universities and when they go into the world of work, those in the upper strata are favoured and those of the lower strata are excluded. In great part, this is why Colombia, which is a country with everything going for it – with two oceans good soils and vast territory, hydrocarbon reserves and an ideal climate – is such a basket case. Colombia since independence has been governed by those with criminal tendencies and staffed by inept functionaries who owe their position to their contacts – their rosca as it is known in Colombia – and not their talents.

And this is where football comes in. When Colombia presents itself on the national stage and dabbles in soft politics it is the children of the poor and often the darker-skinned who carry the flag. The excluded find a more level pitch on the steep inclines of the Medellín hillsides than they do in real life and better they be talented at football or cycling than at studying, as the former at least presents a faint glimmer of hope whereas study is no match for strata and private schools and universities.

A map of the city of Medellín and the locations of the photographs

The Dream Factory is a journey through the poorer barrios of Medellín that I made between 2004 and 2005 as Medellín was under the de facto control – the “donbernabilidad” – of the demobilised AUC (right-wing paramilitaries) who had by threat and force brought the criminal gangs to heel. All was quiet and safe in the neighbourhoods and no one had the required permission to commit street robbery or murders, so I walked the city at will, without an established trajectory and without a care with a 6×7 Mamiya 7 and light metre hanging off my shoulders as I was some naive tourist.

My interest was to show the most beautiful of things: the competition between peers chasing a sphere and spending nothing more than energy, will and time in the pursuit of a fleeting moment of joy whilst scoring a goal or thwarting the attempts of your momentary adversary. It seemed the noblest of things and it appealed to me that the stages for this beautiful ballet with the ball and the tussle of bodies were the spaces conquered, often temporarily, just so that the people could play and dream for a just wisp of time amongst the daily busying of everyday subsistence strategies.

Barrio Paris – Bello

So, I present you an overview of Medellín with football as a pretext. The work was produced for the city of Medellín more than anywhere else and many of the large prints were to offer the chance to peruse the details of the houses, the balconies, the street stalls and any other distraction whose layers wrapped around the ball and the ballet and the pogo of the game at its centre.

Unfortunately, the exhibition could not be presented as I had dreamed as the spaces and the finances with which to do such a thing are controlled by those who are not going to be enthused by a work that questions the very foundations of their own position and privilege. The roscas of Colombia hold back so much of the nation’s potential, leaving so many with so little. But as we do when the national team takes to the field, we can hope and dream that someday a more just society will win out and that Colombia will shake off the stranglehold of its elites.


Chapter II – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Chapter III – Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Chapter IV – Acsunción, Paraguay.

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