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Meet the incredible Barnsbury man with international awards for war photography, water polo and skateboarding

PUBLISHED: 17:35 28 September 2016 | UPDATED: 14:24 29 September 2016

Carlos (front) is also a competitive squash player. He is pictured with fellow members of the Britannia Squash League outside Sobell Leisure Centre following a row over the centre's rules.  (Picture: Polly Hancock).

Carlos (front) is also a competitive squash player. He is pictured with fellow members of the Britannia Squash League outside Sobell Leisure Centre following a row over the centre's rules. (Picture: Polly Hancock).

Archant

Think you’ve had an interesting life? Meet Carlos Lopez-Barillas. He’s an award-winning Guatemalan war photographer, champion skateboarder and water polo player and runs his own newspaper. And comes from a family of political activists.

Carlos, 54, lives in Offord Road, Barnsbury with his wife and two of his three children.

But he grew up travelling around Central America, where his dad was a champion cyclist. Not to be outdone, Carlos decided to better his old man’s achievements by becoming the best at two sports.

He won the skateboarding National Aerial Championship in Guatemala in 1978 before turning his hand to water polo after trying his hand at it while at university.

And it turned out he wasn’t bad at that either. He won more than 100 caps for the national team and won gold medals at three Central American Games.

“I’ve done sport all my life because it runs in my family and I grew up in that environment,” he said. “I’m actually still skateboarding now, not as much as I used to though.”

You’d think that would be enough in the way of amazing achievements for one person. But we’ve not even got to the Nobel Peace Prize yet – seriously.

On his days off from winning international sporting gongs, Carlos somehow found the time to pick up a camera and get good at taking photos.

He started out as a fashion photographer at Guatemalan magazine Amiga, but when that folded he tried his hand at news work with paper Prensa Libre in Guatemala City.

“I thought I’d give it a go,” he said. “I was used to being in a studio with models and assistants so the conflict work was a little bit of a shock to the system. But I enjoyed it. I didn’t enjoy seeing dead bodies, but I saw the purpose of it.”

Friends dubbed him “the coroner” because of his incredible work capturing the armed conflicts in Guatemala, and it wasn’t long before he got international recognition.

In 1994 he was given a replica of the Nobel Peace Prize by a subject of his, Rigoberta Menchú. The political activist had fled Guatemala after her family was murdered and had won the award herself, but chose to share it with Carlos, who himself had ancestors killed for their political activism.

He also tried and failed to get close enough to document the drug cartels in central America.

“I had some contacts and sent a few messages but they said it wasn’t safe, not just for me but for them either.

“I’m happy about that now because I might not be around if I had done it!”

Carlos also worked for the Associated Press after passing a daunting trial that involved documenting the Zapatista rebel uprising in Mexico.

In 1995, he moved to Northern Ireland to cover the conflict there before working for the New York Times doing what he calls “low level” work across the UK.

In 2010 he decided to focus on documentary work and this year he set up his own e-newspaper in his home country, named the Guatemala Chronicle. It’s safe to say it’s in safe hands.


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