Intercultural inclusion and expression: Cuenca from behind my lens
I have been involved with the City of Cuenca, Province of Azuay, Country of Ecuador since October of 2017 planning an art exposition. This process is not new to me. I partnered with my home city in Louisiana to create many similar events. I was not surprised to find that the world of the arts in the public sector functioned very similarly in Ecuador to what I experienced stateside. Money and time are always in very short supply, talent and ideas are plentiful. The story of my coming exposition in Cuenca is an interesting one and one that I think you will enjoy reading about. First, however, I want to share with you how I came to the world of art, very late in my life, and tell you a part of why I moved to Ecuador.
I come from the world of business, having owned and operated a window manufacturing plant and other enterprises in Texas and Louisiana during my tenure as a breadwinner in the USA. I enjoyed using my skills to make the operations grow and thrive, but the day came when I was not enjoying it as much as I once did. I sold my company but I missed being at the helm. So, I owned and operated a couple of other businesses based in the automotive field. Sure, the money was good, my window manufacturing company employed over a hundred people. But, something was missing.
I began to feel that I had creative talents which the world of business did not require or celebrate. I owned a DSLR camera and had begun to enjoy using it to make some vacation photos. Many people who I knew had been encouraging of my work and suggested using my photographic talent to make some money. After twelve years in hospitality business, twenty-two years in manufacturing and about eight years in the automotive industry I decided to do something completely different. I am not skilled in the art of doing nothing. I don’t sit on the couch. Retiring, with its implication of leisure, might not be my cup of tea. But, being creative and making things other than windows, that certainly seemed attractive. With confidence in a positive outcome, I hung the shingle for Brian Buckner Photography. My experiences determined long ago that if a person knew and utilized integrity and fair business practices, profits can be realized in most any endeavor.
I have never had any training in photography save from my close friend, Wayne Tabor, who is quite adept at post-processing. I just read books and started making snapshots about two or three years before I hung my shingle. I’m sort of a self starter, I think that’s part of the creative personality.
My friend nominated me for membership in my local Photographic Society. That’s where things really took off. There is some extreme talent gathered in that society, far more than I could have ever realized at the time. I look back now on my humble beginnings in photography and know, that through the quality of members there, I had a rock-solid start.
That society was big in monthly print competition. I regularly submitted eight prints per month as did most other members. (We used lighted viewing boxes and specified judging distances. I was trained in Professional Photographers of America (PPA) standards and became a photography judge myself.) I won many medals for my work both locally and in a five state area that included Texas and New Mexico. After two years of open competition and judging, I opened my photography business.
During that same time, I was involved in my city’s regional arts council. It was through this involvement that I first got a taste of how local politics and the arts interacted with each other. The city of Shreveport, Louisiana has an active, thriving, and evolving arts community. I was fortunate to be able to utilize some of the exceptional exhibit space that Shreveport has to offer for a solo show and for my work to be shown in two of the galleries showcasing the magnitude of talent in this North Louisiana city. Some of my work sold to individuals and some went into corporate collections.
In 2015, San Diego art critic and historian, Robert Pincus, selected me as the Visual Artist of the Year in my Region. Besides the title, I received a nice four figure check for my contributions. Brian and photography were gelling with each other.
The same year and shortly before I departed for my new home in Cuenca, I was awarded Silver and Bronze medals for my contributions, through my photography, in the advertising industry. These awards were made as a part of the annual ceremonies of the American Advertising Federation, widely known as “The Addy Awards.”
Shortly thereafter, with some brief letters to my clients and other organizations I was involved with, my wife Edie and I began final preparations for our move to Ecuador. You see, Ecuador had been on the radar for a few years. A year later, I got on a jet with Edie and my camera gear and moved to the southern hemisphere. I arrived on the shores of Ecuador in February, 2016. A month later, I began assembling my portfolio of photography and writings that depicted and described Ecuador. Two of the main reasons I moved here were the photographic opportunities and a chance to give back some of the many blessings I had received in my life. A third reason was that I wanted to come to know the beautiful and interesting people of Ecuador and their culture.
In October of 2017, after seeing examples of my photography, a senior staff member of the Arts and Culture Council here in Cuenca asked me if I would be willing to mentor other artists who use photography as their medium. An idea was born and caught fire. The original concept has grown to now include, as the premier event, a solo exhibition of my photographs of the Andes Mountains and life immediately outside of Cuenca. My photographs will be displayed using very large format so that viewers may receive the sensation of total immersion in the scene.
Mentoring will also be a piece of this project, culminating in a showing of the images created by the participating artists after the mentoring period has ended. As you may have deduced by now, I’m happiest and most fulfilled when I am immersed in something about which I am passionate.
It is a fact of human nature that, over time, we become immune to the sights that we pass by every day. Through my art, I seek to remind the citizens of Cuenca of the beauty, diversity, and uniqueness that the city and its surroundings offer. I plan to present to the people of Cuenca a view of their home with fresh eyes. As a visual artist, I have developed a strong sense of composition, lighting, and scene. I recognize the decisive moment; that instant in time when the depression of the shutter button coincides with the capture of a great photograph.
I have shared my vision of Cuenca, both visually and in writing, with a diverse audience via my column in CuencaHighLife, Ecuador’s largest English on-line magazine, primarily directed at the expat population. Since arriving in Ecuador, however, I have been passionate about sharing my art with the people who have always called this country home. I’m excited about the opportunity to share my skills and my art with the Ecuadorian community. And, I’m also excited to be the first extranjero to present my art at the Museo de la Cuidad in a solo show.
This year, the focus of the municipality, as it relates to the arts, is cultural diversity and inclusion. I think of diversity as demonstrating respect for all individuals and valuing each perspective and experience. I have asked myself how to ensure that the wealth of cultural expression does not disappear under the weight of current economic and political issues and dominant cultural models. The UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001) recognizes cultural diversity as a “common heritage of mankind” and considers its preservation as a concrete and ethical imperative, inseparable from respect for human dignity. This Declaration was reinforced in 2005 by the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, which also talks of “the goal of fostering interculturality” in order to develop cultural interaction in the spirit of building bridges between peoples. It is my goal to align my efforts with those expressed in UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity. I am constructing my own cultural bridge on the foundation of years of experience studying, refining, and producing extraordinary photographic images.
As time flies and I yearn to get out the door with camera in hand, I humbly thank all of the people who follow my photography and writing in the many places it’s published. We are one world, one voice, one people. We look different, we sound different, but we all recognize and enjoy the beauty that surrounds us. The photographic image transcends cultures, languages, and origins. It speaks to a deeper awareness of the commonality that we each share albeit in a multitude of rich and unique ways.
Brian Monroe Buckner
May, 20, 2018