Hector Acebes is 87 years old and lives in Bogotá, Colombia. The son of a successful Spanish and Colombian family that imported Spanish wines and textiles into the Americas, Hector Acebes was born in New York City in 1921. He attended elementary school in Madrid and middle school in Bogotá. As a teenager, he graduated from the New York Military Academy (NYMA), where he participated in camera club activities, which provided him with an opportunity to practice his favorite hobby, namely, the shooting and printing of photographs. At this early stage, Acebes gleaned most of his knowledge and skills from popular photo magazines.
Although Hector spent most summer vacations in Colombia, these were not ordinary school holidays. At fifteen, Acebes persuaded his parents to let him to make his first daring solo excursion, a sequence of boat trips up the Orinoco and other rivers of eastern Colombia and western Venezuela. This adventure, full of encounters with prospectors, missionaries, local peoples, and colorful swindlers thrilled Acebes and convinced him that a routine desk job could never satisfy him.
After graduation from NYMA in the early l940s, Acebes enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to study engineering. During this period, he set up a small photo studio in Cambridge and developed his technical skills further, focusing on photography as more of an avocation rather than as a commercial enterprise.
When the United States entered World War II, college students were being drafted. Hector found the idea of serving in Europe too exciting to miss, so he enlisted in the U.S. Army. Acebes served for two years in Germany, France, and Belgium. As the war was coming to an end in 1946, Hector returned to MIT as a junior. He graduated in 1947.
After the war, there were many engineering jobs and no shortage of opportunities in the United States, Spain, or Colombia. All the elements were in place for a comfortable if conventional life. Yet, the lure of adventure proved irresistible.
In late 1947, Acebes headed for Spain to work on a feature film, but the producer's plans fell through. Rather than returning home, Hector traveled on to North Africa to consider alternate career options. "Once I got to Africa I said, 'This is it,'" Acebes explained. He was captivated by the intermingling of varied cultures. The continent's diverse peoples, dress and adornment, color, tones, textures, light, architectural elements and geographic features provided him with astonishing subjects for his photographs and film footage. He followed this trip with a second journey, also in northern Africa and Mali, in 1949. He spent three months exploring and photographing whatever captured his imagination. The highlight of this trip was a camel trek to Timbuktu in Mali, a destination exceedingly difficult to get to. Some of his most striking images come from this journey.
In his contact sheets, one can sense a talented young man with skill, growing confidence, and the ability to obtain consistently good results by engaging his subjects and developing a rapport. This second trip prepared him for his more ambitious future explorations. Between 1950 and 1953, Acebes spent most of his time in Colombia, and made trips through the Llanos-the lowland jungles-of Venezuela, usually traveling by boat. He also made excursions to Vaupes, Colombia, and Jibaros, Ecuador, shooting footage and stills.
In 1953, Hector took his most ambitious trip to Africa, which lasted a year. Starting in Dakar, Senegal at the westernmost tip of Africa, he traveled alone, usually in a Jeep which he had imported from the U.S. Without a set itinerary, he traveled slowly across the middle of the continent, taking many long detours when he learned of places that might interest him. By the end of this trip, he had explored much of West Africa including Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Chad, and Cameroon as well as regions of Congo, Kenya, and Tanzania. He sold his Jeep in Nairobi, Kenya, before concluding his trip in Zanzibar. The exhibition covers the five years of Acebes extended travel in Africa, documenting the peoples of the late-colonial period of fifty years before with dignity, pride, and an intimacy rarely achieved even in contemporary photographic work.
Hector Acebes >