About

LABproject is an online platform which acts as an extension of Nick Ballon’s photographic book Ezekiel 36:36, released on August 1st 2013 (download press release). 

Ballon’s fascination and personal connection with Bolivia is brought to life with his documentation of Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano (LAB), one of the world’s oldest surviving airlines. Founded in 1925, it has played an important role in every stage of the country’s history. Currently under threat of closure and with its downed fleet of aircraft slowly crumbling away, this airline continues to survive through the loyalty and faith of its remaining 180 staff.

Sensitive to this poignant and transitional time, Ballon has spent six months recording the present day story of LAB, culminating in a body of work, which has grown organically beyond a book and into a multi layered narrative. LABproject is a prolonged dialogue and lasting presence for LAB whilst it goes through these troubled times – presenting the history and back-story of LAB and its community.

The story of LAB is in many ways the story of Bolivia and its people, resigned to look back at past of glory and grandeur which is at once half-imagined and half-remembered. It is the story of a people perpetually looking towards a promised future which never seems to arrive. Like a phoenix, they desperately need to rise up from the ashes.

This is the first time that LAB has been so extensively portrayed in both words and images, and the first time that the story has been told outside of Bolivia. Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano may be downed but its certainly not out. 

 

TEAM

Nick Ballon / Photography & Concept

Lu Bowan / Editor & Artistic Project Manager

Amaru Villanueva Rance / Writer & Researcher

StudioThomson / Art Direction & Design

Pumkin Alex & Ben / Website

 

'Ezekiel 36:36 is a great project – your photographs are sensitive and the project is beautifully realized here in the book, which is just fantastically designed and produced. This is such a special book.' - Janine DeFeo, ARTBOOK | D.A.P.

'Ezekiel 36:36 is a limited-run publication that profiles Bolivia’s failing airline the Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano and its last functional aircraft. Clear, color photographs tell the story of a beloved national business, its loyal employees, and its struggles to compete in the ever-shifting world of air travel. Within the refined, cloth-bound book is an actual ticket receipt along with a small booklet compiled from schematic manuals, safety instructions and other found materials printed exclusively in the airlines’ colors of blue and red.' - Michael Itkoff, co-founder of Daylight Books

No. 01977

No. 01977

LAB first opened a flight school in 1927, and counts Bolivia’s first civil aviation pilot among its students. Today, the school technically remains in operation, though the classrooms and simulators remain unused, as tutors await news of the airline’s future.

No.02010

No.02010

LAB is in undeniably suffocated by serious debt, primarily with the tax authorities, but also with pension funds and a number of existing and former employees to whom it still owes unpaid salaries and redundancy payments. Indeed, LAB is embroiled in over 600 open legal processes which are likely to result in a long list of fines and out-of-court settlements. Yet there are reasons for hope to stay alive for the remaining employees at the company.
Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in the region yet has historically sat on incalculable wealth due to its abundant natural resources. Much in the same way, it’s at once paradoxical and contradictory that LAB should find itself in such financial difficulties given the wealth of assets it’s sitting on. Among its list of riches, LAB can count two working aeroplanes, 21 hectares of land and installations next to the Cochabamba airport, numerous offices across Bolivia and even abroad, as well as a set of licences to fly international routes, which have taken it decades to gain from international regulatory bodies. Not to mention the substantial money owed to them by the government on account of unpaid flight subsidies, debt settlements from the flawed privatisation process, and the land on which El Alto International Airport is built, which LAB claims still belongs to them. “We won’t give up. We can’t give up” says Mr Nogales, the man at the head of the company.

Like an Andean phoenix, Lloyd Aereo Boliviano is waiting to rise up from its ashes.

No.01978

No.01978

On the day this portrait was taken, Captain Zabalaga handed in his resignation. A few days earlier, the pilot and his crew had gone on strike, demanding salaries that were owed to them but which couldn’t be paid due to the airline’s growing financial troubles.

The strike and subsequent resignation were met with widespread condemnation from LAB’s workers, as this was one of the three crews operating LAB’s only plane in operation, on hire to TAM, the state-owned commercial military airline. Ezekiel 36:36, the name given to this aircraft, had become the company’s lifeline. As LAB’s main source of income it effectively fed the 196 employees who remained in the company. When the Captain and his crew went on strike, not only did this income dry up, but implied a double blow to the airline’s finances, as in addition LAB had to incur fines. Freddy Vargas, one of the company’s longest-serving employees, remembers the era when the pilots were in control of the Workers’ Federation. They then saw themselves embroiled in several political scandals, including the mysterious disappearance of the company’s paper shares. As the number of pilots in the company waned, so did their influence.

Ambivalent figures within the airline, they were both the cornerstone of the company’s main business, as well as the embodiment of earning and status differentials within the workforce.

Unofficial Canteen

Unofficial Canteen

All flight operations were suspended on the 1st of April 2007, after the Bolivian government decided to shut down the airline on charges of unpaid taxes and the airline’s constantly worsening financial condition. Salaries ceased to be paid for up to two years at a time, driving over 80% of the 2,500-strong workforce out of the company. Those who remained had to resort to their savings and help from their families in order to survive. Many took up second jobs as mechanics, taxi drivers and cleaners. Scraping together enough money to eat remained a struggle. An “olla común” was set up, and those most in need were able to eat thanks to a communal cooking effort, relying on donations of rice and produce from sympathisers to the LAB cause.
The canteen has been closed for several years, but several members of the existing workforce now eat their lunch on an improvised table made from a plank of wood which rests on a tree stump and a disused toolbox. A few metres from the table a woman cooks lunch in a small house, and passes food over the fence which separates LAB’s 21 hectares and her house.

No.01995

No.01995

‘Sometimes if you've worked with an aircraft for a long time you know "donde dar el martillazo" (“where to hit the hammer”). We can even tell what’s wrong just by the way something sounds’
Alberto Rocha is the company’s longest-serving employee. He joined the company in 1971 and has been at LAB continuously for 42 years. Officially speaking, he has already retired, though continues to work for the airline. And he’s not the only one. Almost 50 employees, a quarter of the workforce, are in a similar situation. He works as a technical supervisor.
‘I haven’t rested since I started. I can’t abandon the airline at this stage because I believe this company needs to be left for the next generation. 2007 was like a nightmare for us, it was really worrying to think we wouldn’t get any benefits after all those years’.
‘I thank Lloyd for having opened its doors to me, for having given me an education. My children are also aviators. One of my sons works in Peru, the other in Chile. They are working with larger, more modern planes. When I retire I want to rest, I want to go and live near my children. I want to spend time with my grandchildren’.

No. 01996

No. 01996

Since LAB’s collapse in 2007, employees have gone for long
periods without a salary, and have even endured hunger. They have also seen their personal lives
affected, and stories of families breaking up under the strain, and even suicides, abound.

No.01979

No.01979

Stray dogs rest in the security booth at the front entrance and in the shade on the side of buildings. Workers too, can occasionally be found taking midday naps in the engine room.
Employees must clock in every morning at 8 am, and are allowed to leave at 3 pm, many of them to start their second shift at a second job. Yet despite the increasingly frequent droughts of activity, attendance remains compulsory. At LAB, waiting has become an important part of the struggle. A female employee says to me: ‘estar es una manera de dar’ – ‘being there is a way of giving’.

Headquarters

Headquarters

LAB’s headquarters sit on 21 hectares of prime real estate next to the Jorge Wilstermann airport. There’s something decidedly anachronistic about these premises. Peeling walls of faded blue dominate the landscape, an imposing hangar acting as a backdrop at all times.
A long row of offices and installations line one side of the hangar: ‘Accounts Payable’, ‘Carpentry’, ‘Printers’, ‘Cafeteria’, ‘Locksmiths’, ‘Serigraphy’, ‘Thermoplastics’, ‘Ticketing’. Most are now not so much manned, as guarded by a single lone worker. 

News / Press

13.12.13 Terry O'Neill Awards 2013
Ezekiel 36:36 was shortlisted for this years Terry O'Neill Awards link

12.12.13 Self Publish Be Happy
Book Du Jour: Ezekiel 36:36 on Self Publish Be Happy link

26.11.13 It's Nice That Annual 2013
Ezekiel 36:36 was mentioned in this years Annual

25.11.13 Ezekiel 36:36 was picked as one of the TIME Best Photobooks of 2013
Selected by Michael Itkoff, co-founder of Daylight Books link

1.11.13 Brand Eins Magazine – exclusive feature
Eight page feature for the German Magazine link

1.11.13 Hotshoe Magazine – book review
Book reviewed in the winter edition link

11.10.13 FT Weekend - Dame Margaret Anstee
Dame Margaret Anstee tells FT Weekend magazine her reaction to finding out about the collapse of Lloyds Aéreo Boliviano, link

26.9.13 Brighton Photo Fringe
Ezekiel 36:36 was selected to show in the group exhibition at Brighton's OPEN13, starting on the 1st November - 1st December, link

24.9.13 Damn Magazine
Seven page spread in Damn magazine No. 40

27.8.13 Vrij Magazine
Eight page feature in the Dutch Magazine 

15.8.13 Wired Design
Beautifully Sad Photos of a Dying Airline by Liz Stinson link

10.8.13 FT Weekend Magazine - exclusive feature
Publication: ‘We Regret To Announce.’ FT Online

2.8.13 It's Nice That - exclusive book layouts released
Publication: Nick Ballon's extraordinary new book documents the decline of Bolivia's once-proud airline. It's Nice That

29.7.13 KKOutlet - book launch
This Thursday is the book launch and preview of work from Ezekiel 36:36 which will be happening at KKOutlet in London. We look forward to seeing you all there. Invite

27.7.13 NOWNESS - Ezekiel 36:36 Exclusive feature
Nowness published a exclusive set of images on Saturday with a text from Anne Bourgeois-Vignon. link

19.7.13 Port Magazine - A Thousand Words
Drawing on his Bolivian heritage, the photographer explains how a dead bird on an aeroplane seat is a fitting metaphor for failing airline LAB, the subject of his new photo book. by Betty Wood A Thousand Words: Nick Ballon

Brighton Photo Fringe Exhibition

Brighton Photo Fringe Exhibition

Selected from 350 submissions globally the OPEN13 exhibition in partnership with Phoenix Brighton and Metro Imaging is exhibiting the Ezekiel 36:36 work till the 1st December. 

The work will show alongside:
Ji Yeo
Julia Romano
Liane Lang
Jo Metson-Scott
Simon Ward


Many thanks to the judging panel, Fiona Rogers (Cultural & Education Coordinator, Magnum Photos ) Kate Edwards (Picture Editor, The Guardian) Daniel Campbell Blight (writer and curator) Steve MacLeod (Director of Metro Imaging) Karin Mori (Phoenix Brighton Gallery)

11.10.13 FT Weekend Magazine

11.10.13 FT Weekend Magazine

Dame Margaret Anstee has travelled widely around Bolivia ever since she first went there in 1960, as UN head of mission, and fell in love with the country. She was prompted to write this piece after reading a feature in the FT Weekend Magazine documenting the decline of Bolivia’s former national carrier LAB – a once-proud airline in whose planes she had criss-crossed the land.

See the full story here www.ft.com

History

Precedents

The history of LAB begins with the preparations for the celebration of the First Centenary of Bolivian independence in 1925. The immigrant communities that had settled in the country sought to find ways to express their gratitude to the country, through gifts to contribute to its development and the population’s well-being. The German community, known locally for their pragmatism and entrepreneur- ship, decided to donate an aircraft to the country to aid in the creation of Bolivia’s first commercial airline.

Foundation and Maiden Flight

LAB was officially founded on the 15th of September 1925, with the donation of an F-13 Junkers, the world’s first all-metal transport aircraft. The aeroplane arrived in the back of a large truck which contained all of its pieces ready to be assembled. Cochabamba, a department in the heart of Bolivia, was chosen as the hub of the nascent aviation industry. On the 27th of July, LAB’s Junker made its maiden flight over the city. Among the locals, this aircraft became known by the name of ‘lata piscko’, a Quechua expression meaning ‘tin bird’ See Fig. 1. In his book ‘El Mar del Sur’, Bolivia’s first pilot Jaime Mendoza, writes about this plane: “Modestly and without commotion, one good day this plan came to Santa Cruz, and has since provided a useful communication service between the country’s different regions. With it, journeys that in the past could take months, can now be achieved within hours. The east and the west of the country have been united. With air travel, borders become narrowed, reliefs become erased, there are no longer mountain ranges, nor rivers, nor jungles, nor deserts. There is just the open immensity of the Bolivian skies! And it this way a generous contemplation of the nation becomes possible. Small local passions remain low, so low, while with its potent helix this messenger of civilisation flies overhead.”

Fig. 1

The Heroic Years

In 1932 Bolivia went to war with Paraguay over control of the northern part of the Gran Chaco region which was said to be rich in oil. As soon as the war erupted the government made quick plans to put LAB’s fleet to use. During the three years the Chaco War lasted, LAB was subject to the command of the Bolivian Army, taking care of transporting troops, weaponry, correspondence, and supplies towards military zones, as well as carrying wounded and sick soldiers back to Santa Cruz and Cochabamba. 15 years later, on occasion of LAB’s 25th anniversary, the government awarded LAB the distinction of “Condor of the Andes” in the order of the Great Cross, noting that “since its foundation LAB has served national interest with marked patriotism and efficiency. During the Chaco War, LAB cooperated decisively with the national defence cause”. Bolivian President Dr Mamerto Urriolagoitia later proclaimed: “in name of the Bolivian people, and as the Head of State, it pleases me to affirm that LAB deserves the gratitude and trust of the nation”.

The Glory Years

With the democratisation and expansion of commercial air travel, LAB’s fortunes improved during the following three decades. LAB bought offices in various countries, including Argentina, Peru and Brazil, and expanded its international routes to Rio, Asuncion, Caracas, Cali, Manaos, Cuzco, Panamá, Santiago, and in 1975 started operating direct flights to Miami. LAB reached its first million kilometres in 1932, 7 years after its birth. It had to wait until 1978 to transport its first million passengers in a single year. By this stage LAB had established itself as not only one of the oldest, but one of the most important airlines in South America. Capitalisation and Demise The company underwent some financial difficulties in the 80s and 90s, first as a result of hyperinflation, and later due to fluctuating fuel prices. Nothing, however, could have prepared it for its privatisation. Through the infamous “Capitalisation Law”, in October 1995 the Bolivian government sold 50% of LAB’s shares to VASP, a failing Brazilian airline. Over the following decade the airline was dismantled at the hands of successive corrupt administrations. The government ordered it to cease its operations in 2007 on charges of unpaid taxes and social benefit contributions. It has continued to exist as a company ever since, though its status as an airline remains in limbo as it is no longer licensed to fly.

Jorge Wilstermann

Jorge Wilstermann

Club Jorge Wilstermann is a Bolivian football club from the city of Cochabamba. It is named after Bolivian aviator Jorge Wilstermann.

On November 24, 1949, a group of employees of Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano met to form a football club that would be identified with the company and become the pride of its workers. After two hours of debate, they founded the club with the name "San Jose de la Banda" in tribute to the area and the airport in Cochabamba.

After the death of the company's first commercial pilot in Bolivia, Jorge Wilstermann, the name of the club was changed.

Sourced from Wikipedia

Who owns LAB?

Who owns LAB?

“Everyone wants the control of LAB but no-one wants to own it” a LAB technician tells me, “if you control it you can manage the company to your advantage, but if you own it you also own the debt, and no-one wants that”. Throughout its history, LAB has alternated between being owned privately and being a state-owned company. Following a nationalisation decree, in 1941 the Bolivian state became a majority shareholder in the company. In 1995, as part of a privatisation plan, 50.3% of these shares were sold to VASP, a Brazilian airline. With the inevitable demise of VASP, these shares were sold to a consortium led by Ernesto Asbún, who became the company’s Executive President. Five years later, Asbún faced over 1,500 legal proceedings from workers who demanded unpaid wages and benefits. In order to quell these demands, Asbún had no option but to hand over all of LAB’s shares to its workers, who then became majority shareholders in the airline.

The remainder of the shares currently belong to state-owned Pension Management Funds (AFPs). In Bolivian legal terms, LAB is a Sociedad Anónima Mixta (S.A.M): a Mixed Limited Company, part owned by the state and part owned by its employees. LAB has amassed a debt of over $150 million, a large proportion of which is owed to the same AFPs that own half of LAB’s shares. Like a snake biting its own tail, the majority LAB’s debt lies on its 180 remaining workers, who are not only owed money by the company but who, in owning the company, paradoxically owe themselves money.

In August 2013, in the latest effort to inject life back into LAB, the Workers’ Federation was in the process of securing $15 million in credit, using their own shares as collateral.

Lufthansa and LAB

Lufthansa and LAB

Lufthansa and Lloyd Aereo Boliviano share a long history as two of the world’s oldest surviving airlines. We can trace Lufthansa’s incursion to Bolivia to 1924, before the company was known by its present-day name, when the first Junkers mission arrived in South America. Led by Walter Jastram, this group of aviators and engineers successfully assembled an aircraft and performed test flights in the continent, in preparation for the airline the German community was to found in Bolivia in 1925: LAB.
The relationship between both companies deepened over the following years. LAB purchased a further 20 Junkers aircraft, and Lufthansa provided valuable technical support and training to LAB staff.
By 1938, the two airlines were in talks for Lufthansa to acquire a minority stake in the company in order to strengthen their position in the regional market. In return they would provide aviation material and capital. When WWII broke out a question mark was placed over LAB's continued existence. Air and sea communications were interrupted between Bolivia and Germany due to the blockade imposed by the allied nations.

LAB went as far as asking the government to ask permission from the British Embassy to allow Bolivia to import a tri-motor Junkers aircraft and several other spare parts needed for maintenance, yet this permission was not granted. It goes without saying that the plans for share acquisition never materialized.

Volver a Empezar

Volver a Empezar

Faced by their mounting problems, in 2007 LAB commissioned a video about their struggle and their history. During our visits to LAB’s headquarters, we were shown this song several times by employees, some of whom saved it on their mobile phones. The song ‘Volver a Empezar’ by Alejandro Lerner was chosen as a soundtrack for this clip. Edith Rojas, one of the Worker’s Federation representatives, tells us “it has become an anthem within the company”. As we listen to it, her eyes become filled with tears.

link to promotional video

Life goes by and time
Doesn’t stand still
I carry the silence and the cold
With my solitude

Where will my new dreams
Find a place to nest
And who will lend me a hand to start again

To start again
The game isn’t over
To start again
So the fire doesn’t blow out

There is plenty left to walk
And tomorrow will be a new day
Under the sun
To start again

To start again
To try again

The applauses are gone
Along with some memories
And glory’s echo
Lies on a placard

I will strive forward
Overcoming fears
And God knows that it’s never too late
To start again

A poem inspired by the “Oriente’s” flights

(The birth of aviation in Bolivia)

At ten to nine
Of the morning of the day
In which September rehearsed
Its first step onto the runway
In the dying moments
Of this year five lustrums long
A rumour was heard in the sky
Which seemed to come from an engine
---
Then overhead could be seen
A magnificent swallow
Fluttering before the sun
With its wings spread out wide
Like a genius that offered out
Its arms from up above
A thousand times they quivered
With joy and surprise
Greeting the aeroplane
Which, like a radiant offering
For the heroic Centenary
Of Bolivia our motherland
The colony were keen to acquire
And which Germany has sent us
---
Oh! Superb and powerful AEROPLANE
Which so gracefully
Rises above the clouds
Like an Olympic dove
Proudly swings
With its wings spread out
As if it wanted to reach out
Before its compassionate soul
Carrier of gentle
Decisive solutions
Or promising gifts
Or hopes and smiles
Or ardent and soulful vows
Which reanimate the spirits
I salute you AEROPLANE
With joy and sympathy






For I foresee that you will unite
The Bolivian family
Disenchanting the lowlands
And the Andean walls
Which to those here and over there
Kept us isolated
Like in China or the Poles
Antipodes, foreigners almost
Of the friends and brothers
Dwellers of other climes
Who for seeing each other face to face
And to embrace us chirp
Hearts open
Manifest the intimate longings
For the union to flourish
And for the seed to spread
Of the love from the West
To the Bolivian East!
---
AEROPLANE we are overjoyed
With your second visit
And it is our true longing
That fate be on your side
And that the experience
Of Science in your company
Makes of the air your ally
To reach the summit
Of the RECORD of longevity
Efficiency and splendour
Not only uniting the peoples
Of the Bolivian massif
Its sky made fruitful
By the Santa Cruz family
How I feel of this nation
Its watchtower and lookout
Against the pirates
Who pry from the borders
Toward our muslim carelessness
To carry out their pirate deeds

Dr Felipe Leonor Rivera

Shop

 

 

 

 

EDITION OF 500

24cm x 28.5cm Lithographic printing on Fedrigoni paper (51 pages)
A5 Risograph booklet from the L.A.B archive (36pages)
Unique handwritten flight coupon (c.1999)
£35 +P&P

 

 

 

 

SPECIAL EDITION OF 50 (last few remaining)

In bespoke box, signed and numbered by the artist
10 x 8 inch print of your choice
A5 Risograph booklet from the L.A.B archive
Unique handwritten flight coupon (c. 1999)
£75 +P&P (Purchase via email)

To buy special edition please contact hello@labproject.co.uk

Print Shop

 

 

PRINTS in an editon of 35 in three different sizes

10 x 8” Archival inkjet print       - £50   + p&p
11.6 x 14” Archival inkjet print  - £150 + p&p
25 x 30” Archival inkjet print     - £650 + p&p

Hahnemuehle Fine Art 285gsm

To buy please contact hello@labproject.co.uk
All pictures from the book are available as prints.