Chica Barbie is an unconventional look at the conventions of beauty and how one society copes with adversity.
The beauty pageants of Colombia are legendary and ubiquitous, with over 400 pageants annually spilling across the poverty and violence-plagued country. This in-depth photographic project illuminates the Colombian obsession with a formulaic physical beauty, revealing a relationship with the contests which is surprisingly complex.
Carl Bower's photographs provide insight into this national obsession. He has traversed the country, from training schools and backstage preparations in small towns to the crush of crowds in the weeks-long Miss Colombia pageant, photographing the forces which define and reward a fixed feminine ideal. His penetrating black-and-white photographs reveal the pageants as an essential escape whose rewards are bittersweet.
Carl Bower’s work addresses issues of identity within adverse social conditions. His photos have appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, TIME, Newsweek and the Sunday Times Magazine of London. Diane’s Story, his project on one woman's struggle with breast cancer, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography. The series dealt with Diane's attempts to reclaim her sexual identity and maintain a sense of normalcy while confronting her own mortality. Carl’s need to understand the relation between these issues led to what would eventually become Chica Barbie. Chica Barbie was a finalist for the Book Award at the 2010 New York Photo Festival, Photolucida's 2009 Critical Mass Book Award and blurb's Photography Book Now competition. It was exhibited at the Farmani Gallery in New York, the Blue Sky Gallery and winner of the Blue Earth Alliance Prize for Best Project Photography and in the collection of the Portland Art Museum.