Fernell Franco - Photographs London Thursday, May 20, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Home video of Fernell Franco hand-colouring a photograph at his work table

    © Fundación Fernell Franco

    'Interiors are places where reality, our reality, conceals itself. They resemble the people who inhabit them. Each one recounts something. The architecture, the beds, the spaces, they all have their story.' —Fernell Franco

    In this masterwork by Fernell Franco, one of Latin America’s preeminent artists, light, shadow and silence coalesce. Here, the sublime light from the windows illuminates the otherwise dark, empty room, showcasing the artist’s masterly use of chiaroscuro. ‘In Cali the intensity of the sunlight makes one understand the importance and the truth of shadow…,’ described Franco. ‘Here you are always adjusting your eyes to the contrast, whether from light to darkness or from darkness to light.’ A sense of silence and eeriness is emphasised by the absence of people, the bare walls, the crowded beds and the subdued hand-colouring.


    Fascinated with interiors as a way to capture his personal impressions of the rapidly changing city of Cali (where he lived most his life), Franco began photographing them as early as 1970 at a time when displaced migrants from the Cauca region began to flood into Cali. The Interiores series was closely associated with the work of fellow artist and Grupo de Cali member Oscar Muñoz:


    'With Oscar Muñoz I visited old mansions that had been converted into boarding houses when the wealthy no longer wanted to live in the centre of Cali or in the spacious houses, which were replaced by the new American-style apartment buildings. We used to go, armed with our cameras, to capture the crowded dwellings of the poorer classes, of the displaced people who began to inhabit those places.'


    During his decade-long period of portraying the interiors of the tenements and boarding houses of Cali, Franco developed an appreciation for what he described as ‘the silence of the images’.


    1979 exhibition install of Ever Astudillo, Ferrell Franco, Oscar Muñoz, showing the offered Interiores image, at Museo La Tertulia, Cali, Colombia © Fundación Fernell Franco
    1979 exhibition install of Ever Astudillo, Ferrell Franco, Oscar Muñoz, showing the offered Interiores image, at Museo La Tertulia, Cali, Colombia
    © Fundación Fernell Franco

    Due to Franco’s distinct process of experimentation and intervention, it was common for the finished work to be created a few years after the photograph was taken, de-emphasising the importance of the negative date. The ‘78’ date written by Franco in the margin of the present work refers to the year in which it was produced. Before arriving at the final version, he would make many studies in search of his preferred process, format, tones and colours. These manual interventions were carried out at various stages of image-making from chemical experiments in his darkroom to adjusting tones and adding colour by hand in his studio. He used different materials and techniques, preferring airbrushing to deepen blacks and tint the skies and hand-applying paints and pastels to achieve detailed colouring.


    The Interiores series was no exception; the image seen here exists in various versions, including a later black-and-white variant in which the emphasis is on the grain. What makes this offered work unique is the artist’s direct interventions – how he intensified the chiaroscuro and added colour to the blankets on the beds. For the ochre-coloured blankets, Franco is likely to have applied watercolour in layers by hand. The exhibition-print presentation (a large-format print, signed, titled and dated in the margin by the artist), signifying that this is a finished work, also makes this an exceptional example.


    In 2016, a major retrospective of his work was shown at Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris and Centro de la Imagen in Mexico City.


    Phillips Photographs extend our sincere thanks to Vanessa Franco of the Fundación Fernell Franco for her expertise and advice.

    • Provenance

      Galería Arte Moderno, Cali

    • Exhibited

      Urbes Mutantes 1941-2012: Latin American Photography, Museo de Arte del Banco de la República, Bogota, 27 February – 27 May 2013; International Center of Photography, New York, 16 May - 7 September 2014, another
      Fernell Franco: Cali clair-obscur, Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Paris, 6 February - 5 June 2016; Centro de la Imagen, Mexico City, 27 July - 2 November 2016, another

    • Literature

      F. Franco & D. Ruiz Gómez, Fotografías, Bogotá: Editográficas, 1983, pp. 30-31 (variant)
      Fernell Franco: Otro Documento, Cali: Secretaría de Cultura y Turismo, 2004, n.p. (variant)
      Fernell Franco: Amarrados [Bound], New York: Americas Society, 2009, p. 16 (variant)
      Urbes Mutantes 1941-2012: Latin American Photography, Paris: RM/Toluca, 2013, pp. 336-337 (variant)
      Fernell Franco: Cali Clair-Obscur, Paris: Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain/Toluca, 2016, pp. 118-119 (variant)

    • Artist Biography

      Fernell Franco

      Colombian • 1942 - 2006

      One of Latin America’s pre-eminent photographers, Fernell Franco was a leading figure of the Cali Group (named after the city where he lived most of his life). He first encountered the urban underbelly of Colombia as a teenager while working for a photographic studio as a bike messenger. He later pursued photography in journalism and in advertising before turning to his first series Prostitutas in 1970. In 2016, a major retrospective of his work was presented at Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris and Centro de la Imagen, Mexico City.

      View More Works




Unique gelatin silver print, hand-coloured by the artist, executed 1978.
Image: 35.1 x 53.3 cm (13 7/8 x 20 7/8 in.)
Sheet: 48 x 59.6 cm (18 7/8 x 23 1/2 in.)

Signed, titled ‘Serie Interiores’ and dated ‘78’ in pencil in the margin.

This work is unique. Museo La Tertulia, Cali, Colombia and the Leticia and Stanislas Poniatowski Collection each hold a smaller-sized variant.

Full Cataloguing

£10,000 - 15,000 

Sold for £8,820

Contact Specialist

Rachel Peart
Head of Department, London

Yuka Yamaji
Head of Photographs, Europe

General Enquiries
+44 20 7318 4092



London Auction 20 May 2021