It was early in the morning, barely light out, as the lapping sounds of a rising tide grew more demanding. The ocean’s water was beginning to flow into some backwater areas near the end of the beach. I kept walking, threading my way among the sinew like mangrove roots that reached up to snarl my feet and send me headlong into the wet sand. I’m a Canonista so, as such, one of my Canon cameras filled a small bag that hung heavy on my shoulder.
An hour earlier, I’d left my bed and the soft warmness offered by the flesh of the opposite sex for the call of the sea and the opportunity for photography. A dull sky was overhead and dingy grey clouds scudded along on a salty breeze. I could taste the mineral on my tongue and in the back of my throat as it mixed with the residues of Loja coffee that had come from a French press back at my room. I was bare-chested, clothed only in loose shorts, water sandals and a black bandana tied around my head to keep sweat out of my eyes while I worked. My Big Bopper Ray-Bans offered relief from the slight glare of the sea.
I use available light to make many photographs, allowing the coolness or warmness of the light to help tell the story contained within the image. But, flat light is not good as it adds no definition or modeling to the scene. You cannot have interesting light without interesting shadows. I walked toward a growing crowd of people and their brightly painted boats as the sky shifted to faint high-bright light. The dawn’s onshore breeze had picked up several knots. It was tearing the foam off the tips of the small curlers before they broke against the brown sand. Feeling better about the light and my chances for a photograph I liked, I padded softly on as bright orange hermit crabs scattered before my feet.
I gave a guy a quarter for a huge hunk of fresh papaya as I began to melt into the crowd of busy folks. The fishermen were unloading their boats of the previous evening’s catch. Their cries to barter and buy a myriad of fresh seafood were carried aloft on the quickening winds. Everything smelled like the ocean and there were many bright colors. As usual, it was delightful to have all my senses assuaged at once. I don’t prance around trying to keep dry feet playing hide and seek with the waves. I wade into the water and I enter the scenes I’m interested in recording. Sure it’s cold with breaking waves hitting your bare skin but it’s also a way to know you’re completely alive and in the moment. It doesn’t hurt to look and act more like those you wish to photograph. I sometimes have more fun and make better photographs by establishing a common thread with the fabrics of those I choose to make images of. I wasn’t disappointed by my efforts that day as soon enough, some fellows working with a decrepit motorcycle caught my eye. They were using the ancient modified scooter to haul fish up the beach to a small fleet of trucks that would be carrying them to larger markets.
There were three men working with the beat-to-death transport and they had taken a moment to rest in between hauls. I was still standing in the breakers, about fifty or sixty feet out in the surf. About that time, a gringo man and woman with nicer hiking clothes and a couple of cameras approached the men. They didn’t have any Spanish, or not much, and raced around trying to keep their toe-toes dry while the little waves chased them. They waved their cameras around and babbled something at the men who quickly took off, obviously not wanting any part of the gringos demands for posed pictures. Disappointed that I had been robbed of my chance for a photograph, I turned and walked parallel to the beach staying in the chop of the light surf.
Within a few minutes, I spotted the three men again a little further up the beach. They had ditched the paparazzi gringos in favor of the kindred spirits of Ecuatoriano fishermen having fresh ceviche near some boats. I pulled my camera from its bag and waded toward shore. I was banking on a different response than the other gringos had received.
As I waded through the water, I watched the three men enjoy the exchange and friendly banter of those who work or live closely together. By virtue of their mutual familiarity and respect, they have developed a special trust and understanding. They are comrades, they have camaraderie, they have fraternity…but, will I? Undaunted, as without risk nothing is usually worth a thing, I pulled my camera from its bag and approached their now curious expressions. When they saw a wet and half-clothed skinny gringo coming out of the surf toward them with that big hunk of metal and glass, their world flipped over for a second and in I walked.
The older man, the driver, was a bit more wary at first than his two sons who were perched jauntily behind him on the broken down transport. The torn and ripped red, white and yellow vinyl of an ancient canopy fluttered in the ocean breeze over their heads. Everything about the scene was as real as it gets. I was about to make it all stand still forever. As always, my heart leapt with the happiness of success as I connected with the threesome. The young men called at me, cajoled me to make their photograph laughing and smiling and making me a part of their unique world if only for a moment. Conviviality was thick. They gave me thumbs up signs as I exchanged salutations with them. After all, I had Spanish and I came out of the ocean, two plusses in an Ecuadorian fishing village! When their father began to smile at the interaction his sons and I were having, the camera was already up and firing. Other fishermen called to me to make their photograph and the crowd began to grow loud. About that time, Edie walked up. She had her camera in a similar bag and was wearing her bikini. The men cheered as she gave me a big kiss and I grinned stupidly, obviously close to heaven. We were then swept up in the crowd and offered a breakfast of fresh ceviche as we climbed aboard one of the boats with a crew of men who take their living from the sea.
Cultural bridges are worth everything to me. I use my photography in conjunction with social awareness to create them and so does Edie. Camaraderie had not only found us, it had come upon us with a fury, filling us with gladness. That, of course, provides reason number 1,234,567 that she and I are living in Ecuador.