I just finished the calendar 2013 of the Fundation Achalay (fundation for who I’m working) and almost finalized their book. Finishing a publication is always painful. The last pictures are always the worst and I frequently realize that there is one picture/idea that I would have liked to see, etc… I suppose it’s normal but still wonder if James Nachtway, Paolo Pellegrin or any other top photographer face the same problem or if their experience helps them to deal with the last shots more easily.
Back to work and new series of portraits, while finalizing my book. This time, I did not work with children members of the association Achalay but with a former member. Nice to see that solidarity sometimes really works and can positively influence and change someone’s life.
13 August 2012, Lima, Peru: Teodora with her two children. Despite her handicap and a difficult beginning in life, she managed, after a few years with Achalay, to find a job and now works as a locksmith. She is married, has two children and named her first daughter Fernanda, like the founder of Achalay. [Click on the picture to enlarge it].
Walking in the streets of Cuzco, Agua Calientes or other cities in Peru, looking for a restaurant, is a weird experience. While the first was the capital of the Inca Empire and the second, also called Machu Picchu village, is the entrance door to the mystic Incan city, the majority of the restaurants proposes pizzas, burgers and pasta, adding only sometimes local food to their menu.
This phenomenon is definitely not proper to Peru. You can also eat German bratwurst, hot dogs, pizzas or other “international cuisine” on a beach in Thailand or in any touristic cities. But while it usually consists only in a small part of the menu or involves mostly very touristic restaurants, it seems to have infected the majority of the restaurants located at the center of the cities mentioned below. Consequently, it takes some time to find a restaurant providing local food and it is almost impossible to find a restaurant serving only local food and no spaghettis Bolognese or other pizzas.
If there are so many pizzerias, it certainly responds to a demand from travelers. While I kind of understand it from people enjoying life on a beach during their week of vacation, I’m a bit more surprised to see that people crossing an ocean, spending hours in an airplane to discover a culture so different from theirs, have apparently not curiosity for or interest in local cuisine, nor the minimum amount of willing to adapt themselves to a new way of living or to local habits. We are not speaking about eating worms, wiping your ass with your left hand or drinking local untreated water. No, local cuisine in Peru consists of rice, potatoes, chicken, pork, vegetables, etc … Not exactly a big gastronomic step.
11 July 2012: Cuzco Market, Peru. [Click on the picture to enlarge it].
I’m afraid that this is one of the many examples representing the lack of interest or preparation from many tourists. It frequently starts with a group of (usually) girls climbing a mountain wearing flip-flop (“Nobody told me we had to walk that long during our 5 days trekking”) or of people having only t-shirts while traveling at 4000m altitude in winter (“I thought that every country south of Miami was warm”). However, they usually know exactly how much cost a beer and where to party topless (even if they are in a Muslim country).
I’ve considered for a long time that traveling was a unique opportunity to better understand the world we are living in, to put in perspective our own living condition and therefore, to improve our own existence. But while I still consider it as true, I’m afraid it doesn’t apply to everyone, especially when you don’t make some small efforts to discover a new culture/country, trying to adopt a different state of mind. The consequence of it is to have to deal with people, or to listen to their conversations, full of clichés: Africa is populated of poor people always begging for money and trying to robe you, but beer is cheap. Thailand is great because beer and girls are cheap. Laos is even better because food is cheaper. In Europe, everybody drinks beers, go out at night and eat tapas (if you have studied in Salamanca with non-European, you certainly know what I’m talking about). Traveling around the world is then just a unique opportunity to get drunk for free (or almost), to have sex with a pure stranger (after having spent three hours speaking about how boring are you respective countries) or of taking pictures in fantastic places, simply to update your Facebook profile picture.
11 July 2012: Cuzco Market, Peru. [Click on the picture to enlarge it].
Maybe I’m a bit bitter or push it too far. Or maybe it’s just a new type of travelers, influenced by our dear Leo DiCaprio, who says in “The beach” that his trip in Thailand, “his beach life”, was the best time of his life. Indeed… sex, beers, drugs and a few gunshots for the fun.
It took a bit longer than expected but finally, the great news arrived. I should start working with a new humanitarian organisation in October this year and join my new mission in Bangui, Central African Republic, a few weeks later.
Although my passion for Photography is more present than ever, I feel, after more than three years working with the United Nations in Darfur (Sudan), the desire to play a more important role in the humanitarian field. I want to believe that, by working with one of the best, oldest and most respected humanitarian organization, I will have a chance to contribute, even slightly, to improve the situation of a country, region, family or simply of one person. Although a good dose of cynicism and black humor is usually needed in that job, that’s not always an easy task.
My experience in Darfur taught me than things are rarely black or white, truly good or bad. Good intentions are sometimes the first step to serious mistakes. Observing people (including myself) making such mistakes made me think of how I could make sure my work globally had a positive influence on the life of the people I was supposed to assist. There is certainly no perfect solution. But some seem better to me than others and I believe that principles of independence, impartiality and neutrality can make a difference.
And before daily radio checks, curfews and other restrictions become part of my life again, I’m just enjoying discovering a new continent, new cultures, ways of living and improving my Spanish. The calm before the storm, maybe.
9 July 2012: Manu area, Peru. [Click on the picture to enlarge it].
Some pictures haunt you. You get an idea and try to realize it. Most of the time, it doesn’t work. But sometimes, you finally manage to get something. It’s never really what you were looking for, but it still remains a nice feeling.
22 June 2012: Jose, part-time employee and previously children at the Achalay foyer-farm. [Click on the picture to enlarge it].
After a bit more than a week shooting, I’m back to Lima for a quiet weekend. Steak, view on the pacific and drinks, before restarting working on a new photo book for the Fundation Achalay. And in ten days, I should start traveling a bit more around the region.
After a few years dreaming of it, I am finally in Latin America (Peru). Wondering where to travel, I decided to work for 2-3 weeks for an association, before hitting the road. With simple living conditions, isolated in a small village, it sometimes reminds me field trips in Darfur. But for once, I speak the language and communication is therefore easier (not to mention the absence of national security).
I hope to keep improving my Spanish skills and really look forward to taking pictures, hopefully depicting interesting situations. More to come… inch’allah.
07 June 2012: Children watching a movie in San Andres village, Peru. [Click on the picture to enlarge it].