The Washington Post

Photographer’s diary: Shooting an acid attack victim

The following is a photographer’s account of the challenges and surprises he encountered while shooting the photos for our recent story on Colombian victims of acid attacks:

Mrs. Maria Cuervo at home in Bogota, Colombia, on July 1, 2012. She suffered an acid attack nine years ago by an unknown assailant and has endured 50 surgeries. (Carlos Villalon/For The Washington Post)

A few days later, she agreed to let me photograph her but said, “I have only twenty minutes for you.”

Years ago, Cordoba’s boyfriend splashed acid on her, causing severe damage to her face and ruining even her teeth. She is one of the many victims of acid attacks in Colombia, which is experiencing an epidemic of violence against women. 

“There are some who just stare at me, shocked, and others who make fun. I don’t pay attention to them. Sometimes it hurts, but you have to continue living,” she told Juan Forero, a Washington Post reporter writing about the attacks.

The hardest part of this assignment was knowing that most of the attackers are free today. Colombian law does not consider their crimes to be that serious. I felt helplessness and angry – at the country’s laws, the offenders and the legislators. 

Meeting someone like Maria Cuervo is its own life lessoon. "Whatever of value you see on a person is in the inside and not in the looks,” she told me. This coming from a woman who was disfigured by an unknown assailant who shouted, “This is so you don’t think you’re so pretty” just before he threw acid at her. 

Most of the time I was worried the pictures weren’t coming out right. Maybe it was because I was nervous about having to look straight at their faces, maybe because I did not know what to tell them. I could not hide behind the camera.

In the end I opted to relax and be myself.  By our third session, Consuelo would shout my name on the phone like we were old friends.

"Caaarloos!" she would yell. 

The last time I saw her, we kissed goodbye and I promised to send her a copy of the story.

See Vilallon’s photos below:

View Photo Gallery: Prosecutors and public health officials are alarmed at the rapid spike in acid attacks against women.

Read Juan Forero’s story - Acid attacks in Colombia reflect rage.

And for more of Vilallon’s work, go to


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