Museum shows 50 years of life through one photographer’s eye

Francisco Coto photos When the Volcán Irazú became a tourist attraction in 1963, Francisco Coto was there. And he captured this well-dressed crowd leaving Sunday Mass at the Catedral Metropolitana in 1959.

“My first click with a camera taught me that with the flick of a finger you can catch a scene that can be remembered many years later,” said Francisco Coto. And he did that many times.

Over the course of five decades, Coto documented the urban and rural landscapes, traditions, portraits and architecture of Costa Rica. In the exhibition Cazador de memorias: La obra de Francisco Coto, more than 150 of these images can be seen in the Museo Nacional.

Coto´s artistic journey began in 1942 with Doña Julia Fernandez, wife of former president Leon Cortes, who wanted to give a gift to the president´s young nephew. She could not have imagined the consequences of Coto, at just 18 years old, discovering the German 127mm camera.

Francisco Coto photo John Kennedy at the Teatro Nacional in 1963

It would be the key to define the course of his life and the genesis of his tireless efforts to visually preserve different aspects of his country. Coto´s photos pay homage to an era of rapid change through the second half of the 20th century in Costa Rica.

One of his first models was his uncle, Leon Cortes (who ruled between 1936 and 1940), whom he immortalized in his public moments, but also at his most human. Coto photographed many celebrities, including John F. Kennedy in 1963, but he was later known by generations of Costa Ricans as a portraitist.

The exhibition brings together nearly 100 photographs covering the period between 1940 and 1990, some 50 of which, identify a number of political, social and economic transitions for Costa Rica. The public can also see some of the first photographs by Coto which are of historical value to the Costa Rican cultural heritage.

Also shown in the exhibit are about 50 objects used by the artist during his long career, including large format cameras and instruments for developing, printing and retouching. The methods and tools bear witness to many technological advances and massive transformations of photography.

The photos and instruments have been declared of cultural interest by the Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud. The exhibition is part of efforts to preserve the legacy of Coto and disclose it to the public.

The exhibition devotes a section to a number of photographs donated by Costa Ricans that were taken at the photo portrait studio Foto Coto, he founded in 1947. The studio was on Avenida 3 until 1969 when it was moved to Barrio Aranjuez near Hospital Calderón Guardia.

Francisco Coto was born in Alajuela in 1924.

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