August 31, 2018


By itchysilk In PHOTOGRAPHY

A little while back, we interviewed the photographer Carlos Villalon about his powerful documentary photography. Among many great pieces from his work, here at #itchysilk we were particularly taken by his work on the ‘drug war’ and the impact of cocaine in the Americas. His photography was brutal. Images of decapitated individuals to an image featuring a young boy in a mortuary. That image in fact causing some to voice their concern and question our wish to show  graphic images. For us it felt apt and indeed for Carlos Villalon these brutal images were/are central. The war on drugs and the business of drugs is brutal-the casualties are many-ergo, the exploration must be brave.

That exploration (16 years in the making) has culminated in a book by Carlos Villalon. In the book he tackles (through imagery and four telling interviews) the complicated history of cocaine, its relationship with the indigenous people and of course its relationship to the Americas and the West in this current climate. Tellingly this insightful book determines that the war on drugs is in fact lost.

We asked Carlos to give us a little background to the book in support of his Crowdfunding campaign to make the book a reality.


“I travelled to producer countries like Colombia, where farmers barter cocaine base. They produce cocaine at home made at clandestine laboratories and sell it for goods like toilet paper, food or medicines at local stores in areas controlled by armed groups.

In Bolivia and Peru people produce coca leaves, selling them to make wine, cookies and flour to make other foods. The farmers say they try to sell the leaves to known legal markets, but they recognize that some of those leaves also end up in the hands of drug traffickers, who produce cocaine.

While cocaine is a drug it is conversely considered sacred among thousands of people from the Andes and the Amazon rain forest. It was there that I met the Murui Muinai who claim they came to this earth, following the coca plants’ path.

In Colombia, (again), Chile and Mexico I explored the war on drugs with all its violence, poverty, suffering and banalities. In The USA, the South Bronx in NY, I met with an out-reach organization where volunteers roam the streets exchanging used syringes for new ones, giving away condoms a meal, and offering counselling.

And to end, in the book I explore the theory that the war on drugs was created purely because of racist tensions in 1969. All in 73 color images and four written essays by experts on the field. Calixto Kuiru, a shaman from the Jitomagaro clan, explains why coca is so important to its people. Wade Davis, an etno botanist from Harvard University explains than more than a drug, coca is the base of the culture and if we eliminate the plant, we will also destroy the culture. Karl Penhaul, former CNN international correspondent writes a piece detailing the journey to the world of drugs in Mexico and Colombia. Finally, but not least, Ethan Nadelmann, former director of Drug Policy Alliance in NYC, explains why the war on drugs is lost”.