Princesa Andina

May 6, 2021 | 6 comments

I’ve been a photographer of women from the beginning. Although the fact is, I like to photograph everything. Mastering the abilities to make great visual recordings of all things is good business. It is sufficient unto itself to be a photographer, no descriptors are needed. Qualifiers like “wedding”, “landscape” and “street” are unnecessary. I’m especially drawn to the enigmatic smiles of the girls and young women of Ecuador. And, it does require a peculiar skillset to draw out those special smiles and then record the images.

A few lifetimes ago, when still living in the USA, I was working with a very wealthy and well known businesswoman in a large community. She had a powerful personality, was very smart and very beautiful. I was surprised at having been invited to photograph her as there were two photographers in the area that specialized in portraiture of the well-to-do. The shoot was in her luxurious home which was filled with interesting appointments from her world travels. When the afternoon wrapped up, I asked her how she had come to select me as the photographer of record for her shoot. After all, I had only met her once at a cocktail party. I was a little taken aback by her answer when she informed me that I was not only a photographer but a man that she said she could “trust with my beauty.”

Well, we had enjoyed brief but good conversation when I was introduced to her. But, that didn’t seem to be enough to cause her to elect me to photograph her in her home. She smiled enigmatically and said she had felt that special connection of understanding and trust when we met. When she learned I was a photographer, that sealed the deal for her. She told me she felt quite comfortable with me, as if we had known each other for a long time.

Even though many years have passed since my encounter with this woman, people still have these same feelings, and they always will. The interaction of the photographer and his human subjects remains an indispensable element in the success of the shoot. There is a special magic that happens when your subjects decide to like you, then quickly trusts you and lets their hair down so you can get a glimpse into the uniqueness of their personality. This is the time that those “money shots” get made. No, it doesn’t happen every time but suffice it to say that I enjoy good percentages.

When I arrived on the South American continent, I wondered how these subject/photographer relationships would go for me in a totally different culture. I’ve been retired for a good while and I no longer shoot for money. I knew I would be meeting my subjects on their turf, in the streets and countrysides of Ecuador’s cities, mainly in the Cuenca area. One by one, the photographs came. I enjoy telling the story of the people of the streets with my camera so many photographs I’ve made have been sad as some people living in the streets are indeed sad. And, then there are those photographs where people have huge smiles and are laughing and celebrating. I appreciate them sharing their happiest moments with me. But, some of my favorite compositions are those where a girl or young woman offers me her enigmatic smile.

Winning the trust of a young woman while you are making her environmental portrait is a difficult task but the rewards are great for both subject and photographer when the two of you simply “click”. First there was Isabela…a fantastic girl who lived at the ruins of Ingapirca. She was followed by several other good subjects but then I had a chance to photograph Gloria. She and I met in an Otavalan clothing store in Cuenca, in Plazaleta San Francisco. I was with other photographers and we were spending the afternoon doing some random street work. They had all asked her for a photograph and she had kindly obliged posing in her traditional dress. As she prepared to return to her duties at the tienda, I called to her and asked her to give me her face in the wonderful, softly filtered, afternoon light. She complied with my request offering an unforgettably beautiful mysterious smile.

As you imagine, other subjects have followed that offer that mystifying smile. Here is one caught in that often awkward transformation between girl and young woman. I photographed her in the streets of Cuenca after a parade event 4 or 5 years ago. I don’t recall her name, but she and I connected on the street where we exchanged several glances before I approached her with my camera.

She was quite young so I knew much conversation wasn’t going to happen; these are tough years for a female of her age here in South America. On about the third shot, and as I spoke to her softly using my very best broken Spanish, she began to offer up that mysterious smile. Only these days, it’s no longer too mysterious to me. You see, folks are the same wherever you go. They’re made the same way and have the same feelings. Those special smiles are a sign of a quickly won trust under what are often difficult situations from which to obtain a meaningful photograph.

This young lady is stunning in her natural beauty with that ever so mysterious sphinx-like smile. When I thanked her for so kindly sharing it with me, she held that smile a long time. My heart was pretty happy for her in that moment. She already had confidence and trust that was going to serve her well on her life’s journeys. She has a certain look about her, a certain aura. Even though her name remains unknown to me, she must certainly be a Princessa Andina.