Since 1948, Colombia has been continuously embroiled in civil wars. The first was between members of the Liberal and Conservative parties. From the 1960s onwards, there have been leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary militias, and the U.S-backed Colombian military—an unsteady triangle which has resulted in an ongoing and seemingly unending conflict.

Among many other crises, systematic human rights abuses have forced millions to abandon their homes. According to a 2013 report by the Norwegian refugee counsel, a full 12% of Colombia’s population (5.7 million out of 48.3) live as internally displaced people (IDPs). Every year, 150,000 people are added to this statistic. This figure gives Colombia the second-highest population of IDPs in the world—second only to Syria. It has resulted in a continuous, largely silent and nearly invisible exodus from the countryside to the cities.

The 20 photographs shown here are part of a documentary project that deliberately avoids showing life in the cities. Spanning over a decade, It takes an in-depth look at the problems faced by people living in the countryside. It looks at isolated areas where the modern state is but a mere whisper on the radio. When the state finally does arrive, it first does so with big guns rather than with schoolbooks and medical equipment.

The project includes work both in color and in black and white. The latter pictures serve as a darker corner, documenting the work of the forensic teams in charge of unearthing the thousands of victims of the ongoing civil war.

—Luca Zanetti


Don’t miss the work of
all the other winners and finalists from the LensCulture Visual Storytelling Awards 2014. In total, you’ll find 25 powerfully told stories from across the world.