I had seen her around El Centro a few times. It was usually east of Calle Hermano Miguel and north of Calle Simon Bolivar. She looked pretty beat down. I kept thinking about her, worrying about her well being, wondering about her life here in Cuenca. Sometimes I don’t have a full sized camera with me when I’m out but this time I did. A couple of months wait for a chance to meet and photograph her was about to end.
Day after day(día tras día)is an old, time-worn, adage. It’s usually used to describe some non-appealing yet reoccurring single event or sequence of events in a persons life. Time had carved the idiom deep into her face. Stepping down from the curb, I felt my heart speed up a little as you never know how these encounters are going to turn out.
I often visit with the people I meet in the street while making photographs. Depending on the situation and surroundings, sometimes the conversation is first and sometimes later. Things happen very quickly in the realm of street photography and the decisive moment is always only part of a nano-second. You know how it is. Interesting moments of human behavior are usually short lived. Plus, when the subject knows you are about to shoot, some become theatrical or comical. It’s their attempt to provide you with what they think you want in your composition. It’s never, ever, been what I wanted in mine.
In the instance of the subject in this photograph, animated behaviors were not going to be the case. This type of person is very genuine. They don’t guise their emotions or polish their pose in order to suit. They’ve seen plenty along the way and are survivors in a world filled with uncertainties. It’s difficult to negotiate the steps it takes to get this type of street photograph. You have to get through the rock to mine the gold or you won’t be a successful prospector. Matters not whether you’re after the golden metal or the golden opportunity for a great photograph. You need good gear and the knowledge of how to deploy it in an instant. Yes, you have to be pretty fit so you can position yourself and the camera accordingly. But, you had better have a “fit” personality also because getting certain types of people to talk with you is very challenging.
How do you start a conversation with a person like this? This person is an elder in their community and much older than me. They have a lifetime of native language and I have less than seven years. Cultures and customs are certainly defined as different. Stature is different. But, I’m not afraid or concerned, I’m confident, I’m here to capture and tell their stories. This is “cultural bridging” and also a way to preserve history which inevitably slips away. What do you do? Are you kidding me!? Why, you just wade right in with that international sign of well meaning, the smile. You might want to have a chupete too, dulce de leche is always a winner. Better be sure to press your tough hide button right before you do though. Not everyone is ready to be your partner in a conversation of broken Spanish and hand signs. And, I’m not from around these parts, another serious strike to shutter operation. But, up my sleeve? Well, there are tools there.
In this case two of the woman’s great grand-daughters arrived in a truck to take her home right about the time I had my ice-breaker ready. At first, they intended to derail my efforts with no more than some glances that had nails in them. Well, having pressed hard on my tough hide button prior to engaging them, they were going to be needing significantly more than that to deflect my intentions.
Experienced in the matters of dealing with people in their own environment on the street, I never thought twice. I pulled my best secret weapon first and it worked. The smiles weren’t long lived but they were real as was the interest they paid as we spoke. You see, almost everyone likes to see cool photographs. I have a couple of different websites that I use to show a little of my art. When people see that, they understand that I’m not a tourist. When they see the other photographs I’ve made, they usually change their minds. They allow any reluctance to slip by the wayside. You see, people often want to be a part of the big picture I’m making, the face of Ecuador itself!
The conversation was brief. I could tell she was weary from a day in the streets. Her grand-daughters weren’t too interested in visiting and she, somewhat less. I was barely able to pull it off. Four or five minutes later, she was in their truck headed for the foothills of the Andes, the woman’s home of eighty-two years. And, I was headed for home too. Her image was indelibly inscribed in the bytes of data that were housed in my camera’s memory card.
This is the end of an era in Cuenca and actually the world as her great grand-daughters had proclaimed that they were never going to be street or market vendors. You see, they’re plying the seas of higher education with thoughts of leaving not just Cuenca but Ecuador. The world is always moving on. I try to preserve it’s bits and pieces before time sweeps them all away with its incessant tide. I captured this one, it’s preserved forever. I’ll write more later, time to hit the streets, they’re waiting for me.