The Gomez-Brito Family

Jacob Aue Sobol presents his resonating photographic study of an indigenous family living in war-torn Guatemala

Jacob Aue Sobol

Jacob Aue Sobol David takes a break from work. In spite of the fact that he’s only 6-years-old, David is always out of the house. Sometimes he doesn't return home before darkness falls, when his family is already (...)

After completing his highly personal study of love, his book ‘Sabine’ (2004), Jacob Aue Sobol was at a crossroads in his career. His next move, the year after ‘Sabine’ was published, was to travel to Guatemala to undertake a new documentary project. Despite adopting a more traditional documentary approach, the photographer aimed to carry with him the same sense of closeness with his subject, in this case the Gomez-Brito family. He lived with the family in their home for a long period, studying Spanish so he could talk to them. Sobol spent time working with the men and the boys on their land, and with the women and the girls in the house. Only when there was a level of mutual trust did he begin to take photographs. Here, he tells their story in his own words.

The Gomez-Brito family lives in a remote area of the mountains in Guatemala near the village of Nebaj. Nebaj is part of the Ixil-triangle–an area of three towns that maintains one of the strongest indigenous cultures in Guatemala. Even though natives make up the majority of the population in the country, they are still discriminated against in many ways. Most of them live in poverty and many work on farms earning a wage of 2-3 dollars a day.

Jacob Aue Sobol In April, the family burn back their cornfield to prepare for the next season. The corn harvest is particularly important to the family, because corn is part of every meal the family prepares. A ba (...)
Jacob Aue Sobol Roberto is 3-years-old and is the youngest child in the family. Childhood doesn't last long for the people of Ixil, but for now Roberto can still enjoy living with the comfort of his older sisters (...)
Jacob Aue Sobol The family has a dog. It follows 10-year-old Eliseo every morning when he walks the long way to the other side of the mountain to look after the horses. Eliseo doesn't like to walk the long way alo (...)

"Even though the chance of change in their life is most unlikely, all the children have different dreams for the future."

- Jacob Aue Sobol

In the late 1970s and 1980s, the Ixil region was engulfed in a civil war, killing and displacing thousands of Ixil Mayans. During the war, the portrayed family lost their youngest child, who died of hunger and disease when hiding in the surrounding mountains. Today, in the very same mountains, the mother Juanita and the father Andrés live with their nine children. Unlike many other families from this area, they have succeeded in keeping the family together by working hard on their own pieces of land. From early morning to sunset, their daily routine consists of: collecting berries and other fruits, cultivating the land (which mainly consist of corn and beans) and breeding the animals.

Even though the chance of change in their life is most unlikely, all the children have different dreams for the future. Maria, 7, wants to continue school and get an education, Faustino, 18, is eager to find a way to enter the USA, while David, 6, claims that his wish is to take over the family’s land, when his father retires.

– Jacob Aue Sobol

Jacob Aue Sobol Maria is 7-years-old. She doesn't go to school much because she has to help with the work. Sometimes, when there is a small break, she collects berries just for herself to eat. She says that eating (...)
Jacob Aue Sobol Usually the family cannot afford eating anything other than vegetables and corn. They are breeding 12 chickens, but they will be sold to pay for clothing and daily necessities. During the day, the (...)
Jacob Aue Sobol When Felipe goes for a walk with the goats at 5 a.m., he always passes by the big avocado tree to see if any of the fruits have fallen down. This morning there is nothing to find, but he has brough (...)

Prints from this photo story are now available to buy as a Magnum Distro. Harking back to the analogue days of photo distribution, the Magnum Distribution is a full photographic story in an envelope. Each pack contains eight 8×10” prints, hand-stamped with the Magnum Collection stamp and the photographer’s copyright stamp, and accompanied by a printed page detailing the story and individual captions. Shop the distro here.

Jacob Aue Sobol When it’s dark outside and the electricity doesn’t work, and you need to use your hands for work, Diego knows how to solve the problem. 2005. © Jacob Aue Sobol | Magnum Photos
Stay in touch
Learn about online and offline exhibitions, photography fairs, gallery events, plus fine print news and activities, on a monthly basis.
Get fortnightly tips and advice articles, find out about the latest workshops, free online events and on-demand courses.
Stay up to date every Thursday with Magnum photographers’ activities, new work, stories published on the Magnum website, and the latest offerings from our shop.