JTF (just the facts): Published in 2017 by Editorial RM (no book link, publisher site here). Hardcover, 112 pages, with color photographs of 9 bankrupt banks, 28 piggy banks, 24 digitally reproduced logos and trademarks, 12 book covers, 14 digitized banknotes, and screenshots from 6 television ads. Includes an essay by Luisa Leticia Rangel (in English and Spanish). In an edition of 1000 copies. Design by Ricardo Báez. (Cover and spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: The work of Venezuelan artist Luis Molina-Pantin often deals with invisible structures and the banal representation of power, and in his most recent photobook, he systematically examines the collapse of the economy and banking system in his home country. The book, with the rather long and straightforward title Testimonies of Corruption: A visual contribution to Venezuela’s fraudulent banking history, brings together an extensive set of carefully collected and meticulously documented artifacts which he uses to create his biting visual argument.
This eclectic inventory of sometimes obscure objects reflects on the financial crisis in Venezuela and the powerful forces that lay behind it. To construct his case, Molina-Pantin uses photography as an archival system, producing organized typologies of images that each tell part of the larger story. The elegant design of the book, with its legible structure, attention to detail, and bold use of typography presents the project in the format of a formal report.
The brash cover of Testimonies of Corruption immediately stands out from afar. Its bright yellow color pops, and a slightly tipped in image of a executive sitting at his office desk (with his face roughly pixelated and obscured) takes up most of the cover space. The title of the book appears underneath the photo in a large font (with the Spanish translation in much smaller font below), and the colors of the Venezuelan flag are echoed on the spine. The back cover reproduces the business cards of the presidents of the three main Venezuelan banks.
The endpapers also play an important element in shaping the corruption and mismanagement narrative. An image of pixelated rows of American dollars serves as an introduction (with an explanatory caption that appears on the next spread). The picture references the so-called “suitcase scandal” which occurred in 2007 when a Venezuelan, Antonini Wilson, arrived in Argentina carrying nearly $800000 in cash, which he somehow failed to declare. The money was thought to be an effort to help finance the Argentine presidential candidate Cristina Kirchner, the infamous case becoming a symbol of President Hugo Chávez spending his country’s oil wealth to increase his influence in the region. The closing end paper references another dubious incident. In 2017, the Paraguayan police confiscated 25 tons of Venezuela bolivares. The pixelated visual depicts the banknotes spread on the ground, having fallen from a police van overturned while transporting the money to the bank to be counted.
The book itself opens with a dedication to Molina-Pantin’s father and all the victims who lost their savings in banking schemes, bringing a personal human perspective in this otherwise dry object-focused investigation. The essay “This is all fucked up” by Luisa Leticia Rangel serves as an essential introduction to the Venezuelan banking crisis. Packed with details and numbers, it guides us through the peculiarities of country’s economic system, as well as the various political interventions and institutional failings that have taken place.
Molina-Pantin divides the book into six chapters, each representing a certain element of the corruption story. He begins with the ruined facades of bankrupt banks (from 2007-2014), the images documenting the now abandoned buildings. Most still have their signs in place. One photograph depicts the Banco Italo Venezolano, located on an unidentified street corner; its faded signs are missing letters, the windows are broken, and the walls are covered with graffiti. Once a potent representation of power and wealth, these buildings now stand as a reminder of the sudden descent (and the lingering social aftereffects) of the failed system.
The second chapter presents a collection of 28 piggy banks once handed out by now bankrupt or bailed-out Venezuelan banks. All of the coin banks are shot in the same format, against a clean white background, with the title of the bank appearing under each image. They vary in design from the very simple to the bizarre, such as a robot or a ninja turtle. This is followed by a short chapter that captures 24 simplified bank logos in black in one spread, each a sign of stability and trust. The parade of broken piggy banks and stately logos stands as a stark reminder of the failure of these institutions to protect their depositors. They encouraged the instinct to save but betrayed that trust, leading to a tragic loss of personal savings, and ultimately ruined lives.
Other chapters explore the situation from alternate angles. Molina-Pantin compiled a collection of 12 books on the economic crisis published between 1964 and 1994, bringing attention to the fact that the crisis could have been foreseen and possibly avoided; their covers are documented against white backdrops. The fifth chapter unearths sets of 14 withdrawn Venezuelan banknotes, highlighting the disruptive power of inflation and the deep extent of the crisis. And the sixth and the final chapter focuses on 6 television ads from bankrupt or bailed Venezuelan banks. Each of the ads is presented as a sequence of screenshots, and the captions indicate the bank, the year, and the duration of the advertisement. They stand as a grim reminder of countless failed promises.
Seen as a single integrated argument, Molina-Pantin’s Testimonies of Corruption joins a growing genre of photobooks that merges the issue-driven determination of investigative journalism with the instincts of an artist. The book combines the rigorous structure of a visual archive with the caustic skepticism of political satire, using secondary objects to highlight the failures of those in power. In many ways , its success also lies in revealing as much as it conceals. With its witty concept and its fine execution, this incisive photobook stands as unflinching witness to failed policies and affected lives, and given that position, it is unlikely to get a welcome nod from the Venezuelan authorities.
Collector’s POV: Luis Molina-Pantin is represented by Henrique Faria Fine Art in New York (here). His works have little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.