From 1976 until 1983 Argentina was held hostage by a military dictatorship. Approximately 5,000 opponents of the brutal regime were put on planes and thrown into the sea. “They were unconscious: we undressed them and when the captain of the flight gave us the order we opened the door and threw them out, naked, on by one.” (Adolfo Scilingo, former Argentine naval officer).
In 2003, documentary photographer Giancarlo Ceraudo and journalist Miriam Lewin began investigating these “death flights”, their research resulted in Destino Final. It is one of these documents that will unavoidably start a horror movie in your head that many very probably would prefer not to watch.
The very first photograph shows a small plane that one imagines will soon be taking off and of which the caption says: “Skyvan PA-51, one of the five planes of the Argentine Naval Prefecture used for death flights during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship. The aircraft operated the flight on 14 December 1977. Fort Lauderdale, Florida, United States, 2013.”
Destino Final is an impressive, and deeply moving, document and that has mainly to do with the ingenuity of photographer Giancarlo Ceraudo. Let me elaborate: Photographs, generally speaking, capture the moment and, as the saying goes, bring time to a standstill. In other words, photography is about recording the present. So how do you go about a photographic project that aims at recording occurrences that happened before your time?
Giancarlo Ceraudo opted for photographs in black and white that show the insides (from cockpit to rear door) of the then used planes, concentration camps, cells, survivors and ex-detainees, among them contributing journalist Miriam Lewin, forensic anthropologists working in mass graves, boxes with remains of bodies found in mass graves, public rallies, scenes at the courthouse, family members paying tribute to their loved ones and and and … In other words, he found a way to photograph the past as well as the present.
There are also informative texts (in English and in Spanish) in Destino Final. Contributing writers are Argentine investigative journalist Horacio Verbitsky, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón Real, Argentine-Italian plane crash analyst Enrique Piñeiro, writer and activist Taty Almeida, and anthropologist Carlos ‘Maco’ Somigiana.
Photographs are essentially triggers, photographs with texts are triggers that give direction. In the case of Destino Final, photographs, captions, and texts all point to atrocities that make us wonder how on earth it was possible to follow such orders, to commit such heinous crimes.
There are also photographs that show men responsible for these crimes awaiting their verdict in the court room and one cannot help but look at them in horror. To be sure, they do not appear any less human than other human beings yet looking at them and imagining what they then did and ordered others to do changes what we see.
Destino Final is an important book.
by Giancarlo Ceraudo
Shilt Publishing, Amsterdam 2017
Also published on Medium.